COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State did its best to forget its only loss.
Michigan State served notice that, as is annually the case, it may just be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason.
William Buford scored 23 points and Aaron Craft had a hand in two critical plays down the stretch to lead the No. 2 Buckeyes to a 71-61 win over the Spartans on Tuesday night.
It was a hard-fought struggle for Ohio State (25-1, 12-1 Big Ten), playing for the first time since having their unbeaten season ended with a 61-57 loss at Wisconsin on Saturday.
Kalin Lucas led the Spartans (14-11, 6-7) with 14 points, while Adreian Payne and Draymond Green each had 10. They've lost six of their last eight but fought hard throughout.
"I wouldn't count us dead yet," an emotional coach Tom Izzo said. "This is a pretty good team if we can regroup down the stretch and get three guys to play together instead of just two."
As he left the postgame interview room, he repeated, "We ain't dead yet."
The third guy would be Durrell Summers. Summers' conference season struggles continued with one of his worst games to date. He committed two fouls in the opening minutes and sat for most of the first half.
He was a non-factor in the second half, and mustered only one shot attempt, missing a 3-pointer. He had 1 rebound in 16 minutes for the game.
"We made some great plays but we had a couple of guys that just played ridiculously poor and we just kind of ran out of bodies," Izzo said. "That breakaway when we didn't go after the ball and they got a 3-point play was maybe the most major turning point of the game."
Summers was the guy who didn't go after the ball when Garrick Sherman tried to save a loose ball under the MSU basket by saving it out toward the backcourt. Sherman's wild toss bounded over the half court line. Summers stood and watched as Ohio State's Aaron Craft raced past him to the loose ball and toward the rim for a lay-up. MSU's Keith Appling raced after Craft and fouled him while Craft converted the lay-up for a damaging 3-point play.
That play stretched Ohio State's lead from five to eight points at 61-53 with 5:49 to play.
Summers was pulled from the game and never re-entered.
"It was the turnovers that got us, and some were unforced, and the turnovers were caused somewhat by the bizarre lineups again," Izzo said. "We had certain guys that just didn't play, and we had other guys that were playing as hard as they could but just aren't able to do the things."
Walk-on guard Mike Kebler put forth perhaps his game as a Spartan, with eight points and good defense in 24 minutes.
"Give credit to Kebler and Austin Thornton," Izzo said. "They are what they are and they gave everything they could give, and so did Keith Appling.
"Kalin was unbelievable and did everything he could do."
Freshman center Adreian Payne, returning to his home state, had his best game of the Big Ten season with 10 points (4-of-7) shooting in just 11 minutes.
"I thought all three bigs played well," Izzo said. "I was happy with all of them. Everybody did something that really helped. Delvon Roe, he hung in there and tried to play. I can't tell you how proud I am of him."
Roe mustered just eight minutes of playing time after suffering a bone bruise late in the Penn State game last week.
"We got the ball inside a lot better the first half," Izzo said. "I don't know if it was their adjustments or our lack of getting it in there in the second half, that was the only thing disappointing."
Michigan State dominated most statistical categories, out-rebounding Ohio State, 30-22, and out-shooting OSU from the field 57.4 percent to 42.9 percent.
But the Spartans had 19 turnovers to Ohio State's 7. And Ohio State had 23 more foul shots, going 23 of 29 from the free throw line, compared to just 5-of-6 for the Spartans.
MSU was called for 26 fouls while Ohio State was whistled for just 12.
"It's a disappointing loss," Izzo said. "We played hard, we played better, we are playing better defense. We're doing different things but it's just patchwork right now. I think we showed improvement but it's the time of year when we have to get wins. I'm disappointed in the way we finished that last four or five minutes. That free throw situation makes it difficult.
"We had ourselves in a position with a chance with four minutes left, and we just didn't make a couple of big plays, missed a couple of shots and it was a joke at the free throw line to be honest with you."
Michigan State will need a victory over Illinois on Saturday at Breslin Center in order to get back to the important .500 figure in Big Ten play (ESPN, 9 p.m.)
"We have to get home and hopefully that home crowd for GameDay is going to be phenomenal; we need your help," Izzo said in a call out to Spartan fans. "I guarantee we are going to play our tail off on Saturday night, so be there."
Jon Diebler and David Lighty each had 12 points. Craft, a freshman substitute point guard, had seven points, four assists, four steals and three rebounds -- and a hustle play that was the talk of both head coaches.
"One loss doesn't make or break a season," said freshman center Jared Sullinger, who came in averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds and was limited to 11 and 2. "We just wanted to come out and get the win."
The Buckeyes finished the game on an 18-10 run to pull away on a night when nothing came easily for either team.
The game turned on two quick defensive stops.
With the Buckeyes hanging on to a 45-44 second-half lead, Buford stepped in front of a bad pass by Lucas and went coast to coast for the basket. The next time down the floor, Craft forced Lucas to give the ball up in the backcourt and Kebler turned it over, leading to two free throws by Diebler. After the Spartans scored a second-chance bucket, Diebler flipped in a line-drive 3 from the top of the key for a 52-46 lead.
A capacity crowd of 18,809 roared its approval.
Diebler hit two 3-pointers to move into a tie for second with Michigan State's Shawn Respert, one back of Big Ten career 3-point leader Pete Lisicky of Penn State, with 332.
Asked the turning point of the game, Matta pointed to the defensive pressure.
"It was some of the defensive plays we made," he said. "Will had a steal and Aaron had a steal. ... We weren't defending as well as we need to and those gave us the lead."
Now on top, the Buckeyes relied on Buford.
After Michigan State had cut it to 53-51, Buford hit consecutive jumpers -- the first a 3 from the left wing and the second a stop-and-pop jumper from 15 feet to make it 58-51.
Craft also figured in another pivotal play. With the Buckeyes on top 66-59, he had a steal and was fouled by Green at the other end with 1:42 left. Green was then assessed a technical foul. Craft stepped to the line and hit three of the four shots to swell the lead to 69-59, the biggest of the game for either team to that point.
Izzo twice referred to Craft's big plays during his postgame remarks.
Of Green's technical, he said, "He blew up at himself. It was probably deserved. I don't have any problems with that. I have more problems with us not chasing down a loose ball."
Near the end, Ohio State fans taunted the Spartans -- who have made it to the Final Four in six of the last 12 seasons -- with a cheer of "N-I-T! N-I-T!"
The Buckeyes were 23 of 29 at the free-throw line to the Spartans' 5 of 6, another aspect of the game that rankled Izzo.
"It just seemed like they walked to the line every freakin' time," he said.