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February 24, 2013COLUMBUS, Ohio - A week ago, Ohio State was in the midst getting run off the floor at Wisconsin and wondering what was happening to its season after losing three of four games.
Meanwhile, Michigan State was blowing out top five Michigan and seemingly a prime contender for another trip to the Final Four and a Big Ten title.
Sunday, the teams seemed heading in opposite directions - at least for now.
The 18th-ranked Buckeyes have run off two straight victories, the latest an impressive 68-60 win over fourth-ranked Michigan State at Value City Arena on Sunday.
Aaron Craft scored career-high 21 points and handed out six assists for Ohio State (20-7, 10-5 Big Ten). He helped spark a 24-5 run in the second half that turned a nine-point deficit into a 10-point lead.
"Give Aaron Craft a lot of credit," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "In the second half, he tore us up. He beat us every way you can beat us. It was a joint effort, it wasn't just one guy (who couldn't guard him)."
After Adreian Payne had put Michigan State ahead 36-27 with a jumper early in the second half, Craft went to work. He routinely beat the Michigan State defense on the ball screens and converted several layups while the Ohio State shooters started heating up.
"We saw some things we thought we could take advantage of," Craft said. "In the first game (against the Spartans, a three-point Michigan State win last month), we didn't do a great job of challenging their bigs on the ball screen. We know they are a great helping team, and it always helps when guys are knocking down shots from the outside. It opens the lanes up and we made some layups."
"Can't figure out why we aren't guarding like we did," Izzo said. "We probably played our best defensive game in years a couple of games ago and we haven't guarded anybody since. It's starting out top. It's been a struggle.
"It's so strange because I've seen Keith Appling guard the world. He's just struggling right now. We have to help him through it because I think he's the best defender we've got on this team.
"We'll assess the film. I don't think it was one man. I don't think our bigs did a good enough job. Those ball screens hurt us. We did a poor job on it and I think the coach has to take some of the blame for that."
Deshaun Thomas, who finished with 14 points for the Buckeyes, was only 4-for-16 from the field, but his two 3-pointers during the second-half run were crucial. After his first triple, which cut Michigan State's lead to 36-30, Ohio State coach Thad Matta delivered a message.
Immediately after Thomas' shot went down, Matta called a timeout and told his team the opportunity was there to take control.
"He just said he wanted us to be aggressive on defense," Thomas said, "get some stops and some turnovers because the momentum was on our side after I hit that 3. We got like 14 turnovers, and that was big. Our defense led to our offense."
Michigan State, which lost consecutive games for the first time this season, cut the lead to two in the final three minutes but couldn't get over the hump.
"There seems to be some complacency in this team right now, and I think that's happened since that Michigan game," Izzo said. "So we have to get back to playing at the level where there is some grit and I don't think there has been as much grit. That's really disappointing.
"It wasn't like we loafed. It wasn't like we didn't bring some energy, but you have to bring a lot to win on the road in this league, especially against a ranked team."
Gary Harris scored 14 points for the Spartans (22-6, 11-4), while Payne added 12 points and 15 rebounds. Derrick Nix scored 12 points for Michigan State.
"I'm disappointed we haven't shown the grit we showed the last two games," Izzo said. "Normally that happens when you get fat and sassy, and I think we've gotten a little bit of that. Take no credit from Ohio State. They played OK in the first half and great in the second half and deserved to win."
MSU point guard Keith Appling had another rough performance, going 1-of-6 from the field for 3 points, with one assist and three turnovers.
"There are no secrets that Keith is struggling a little bit and we just weren't executing like we did in the first half," Izzo said. "We weren't setting screens. We weren't getting the ball inside. We did some things that were uncharacteristic. We took a couple of bad shots and then the game got away.
"You can talk all you want about our offensive execution, but it was our defensive play in the second half that was the difference in the game. They shot 57 percent in the second half, that's illegal."
Michigan State closed the first half on a 6-0 run to take a 31-25 lead into the locker room. Ohio State's Sam Thompson tied the game with an impressive three-point play before the Spartans went on their run, dunking on an inbounds play and converting the free throw.
The Spartans closed the half strong on a layup by Matt Costello and four straight points from Branden Dawson, including a dunk on a lob from Harris.
Michigan State outrebounded Ohio State 33-26 and shot better than the Buckeyes (45.7 percent to 44 percent).
"Some guys played good enough and some guys didn't and you can't win big games on the road playing average and in the second half we were below average, giving up 57 percent," Izzo said. "We ran some things, we got that 9-point lead and then we didn't do a good job.
NOTES: Michigan State junior guard Travis Trice played his second straight game after missing the previous four with concussion-like symptoms. He played just six minutes Tuesday against Indiana but entered Sunday's game against Ohio State with 12:11 to play in the first half and finished with two points in 11 minutes of action. ... Sunday's game was the second of four consecutive against ranked opponents for Michigan State.
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