CHICAGO - Michigan State once again had trouble guarding Aaron Craft, and once again the Spartans are going home early from the Big Ten Tournament, following a 61-58 loss in the semifinals.
Craft, Ohio State's junior guard, scored 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting. This comes three weeks after Craft's dribble drives were the key to a 68-60 victory over the Spartans in a regular season game in Columbus on Feb. 24.
"We did not do a very good job on Craft and he beat us in a different way," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. "The first time, he beat us getting to the hole. This time time he almost never got to the hole - he beat us with his jump shot.
"It's just disappointing because we could have played well enough to win but we did not play smart enough."
Craft keyed a seven-point spurt midway through the second half that stretched the lead to eight at 55-47, and the No. 10-ranked Buckeyes (25-7) came away with the win after the No. 8-ranked Spartans (25-8) pulled within one. The victory avenged a loss in last year's championship game.
Last year, the Spartans beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game - marking Izzo's first Big Ten Tournament title since 2000.
Izzo has taken Michigan State to the Final Four on six occasions, but the last four times Izzo has done so, his team has not won the Big Ten Tournament.
He seemed aggravated with the cause of this loss, but hopeful that some final lessons learned in Chicago will pay dividends in next week's NCAA Tournament.
"The difference at one-and-done time is you somehow have to find a way to make your guys understand that the mistake at the beginning of the game is the same as the mistake at the end of the game," Izzo said. "And you don't get to make a lot of mistakes if you are playing good people.
"At one-and-done time, some can handle it and some can't. That's when you really need some leadership to make guys realize that. That's what I'll use this game as because I'm sure I'll be able to find four or five instances in the game.
"I'm going to use this a lot and hopefully it will pay some dividends."
It was 57-56 after Derrick Nix converted a three-point play for Michigan State with 1:54 remaining. But Nix made a defensive error at the other end on a difficult Ohio State ball screen play. Nix then dangerously grabbed Craft from behind in trying to catch up and was called for a flagrant foul.
Craft made one of two free throws.
Then, after burning :30 more seconds of clock, Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas grabbed a huge rebound off a missed 3 by Shannon Scott to keep the possession.
After another :25 seconds, Thomas rattled in a jump shot from 15 feet off a double curl play to give OSU a 4-point lead with :22 seconds left - having successfully burned a minute and :32 seconds after Nix's big three-point play.
Ohio State will go for its third championship in four years when they meet No. 22 Wisconsin, a 68-56 winner over top-seeded and third-ranked Indiana in the other semifinal.
Michigan State and Ohio State are believed to be under consideration for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The brackets will be announced on Sunday. Many observers expect Michigan State to be placed at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., next week, whether or not they are a No. 2 seed.
Nix was a force in the paint for the Spartans, scoring 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting. He had a game-high nine rebounds. But the defensive error at the end and flagrant foul were critical mistakes.
"It's a shame that nix had such a productive game in some ways but not some others," Izzo said. "We did a decent job on Deshaun Thomas. In fact, I thought Adreian Payne did a great job on him. We gave him a couple of shots. We made some adjustments. It was more our doing, not A.P.'s.
"That was basically the only two guys that had any impact (Craft and Thomas)."
As for the flagrant foul, Izzo said: "Some of our players on the floor thought it was the right call. So hats off to them for once in my life I'll give the officials credit."
Craft scored all but two of his points in the second half. He also had nine assists and four steals in the game.
Thomas scored 16 even though he hit just 6 of 19 shots -- 2 of 11 3-pointers.
Keith Appling scored 16 points and was an encouraging 4-of-7 from 3-point range after suffering through a terrible shooting stretch in the second half of the Big Ten season.
In a game that was neck-and-neck for about the first 29 minutes, Craft gave Ohio State some breathing room when he scored on a layup and a pair of jumpers to cap a seven-point spurt and make it 55-47 with 7:22 remaining.
Michigan State hung in, and things got real interesting when Nix converted that three-point play with 1:54 left.
The 6-foot-9, 270-pound Nix was a handful right from the start. He dominated down low with 10 points in the first half as Michigan State grabbed a 29-28 lead.
Appling hit two 3-pointers and scored eight in the half.
Thomas, the Big Ten's leading scorer, had 11 points in the first 20 minutes but was just 4 of 13. There weren't many fouls called in the first half, either, with Ohio State attempting just two free throws and Michigan State not even getting to the line in the half.