EAST LANSING – No player in Michigan State history has won a pair of outright Big Ten regular-season championships, though seniors Austin Thornton and Draymond Green are on the verge of becoming the first two.
Ohio State is looking to accomplish an impressive feat of its own while avenging an earlier loss.
The fifth-ranked Spartans seek an outright conference title Sunday when they host the 10th-ranked Buckeyes, who can earn a share of a third straight Big Ten crown for the first time in 48 years.
“It’s pretty cool,” Ohio State All-American Jared Sullinger said of this matchup with so much at stake.
Michigan State (24-6, 13-4) will be recognized as league champion and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament no matter the outcome Sunday, but the Spartans haven’t finished alone atop the standings since their run to the national title game in 2009 when Thornton and Green were freshmen.
This Michigan State team had a chance to clinch the outright title Tuesday but had a seven-game winning streak snapped, falling 70-55 at No. 18 Indiana despite Green’s 29 points.
“We just have to make sure we come out on top (Sunday), last man standing,” said Green, who along with Thornton will play his final game at the Breslin Center.
Green is averaging 16.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists. No player from the six major conferences has averaged at least 15.0 points, 10.0 boards and 3.0 assists for a season since Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan in 1996-97.
Green had one of his worst shooting nights in the first matchup with the Buckeyes, going 5 of 16 from the field for 12 points, but Michigan State still ended Ohio State’s 39-game home winning streak with a 58-48 victory Feb. 11.
Adreian Payne led the Spartans with 15 points and played a big role in forcing Sullinger to commit a career-high 10 turnovers.
Sullinger had 17 points and 16 rebounds but shot a season-worst 5 for 15 as Ohio State finished at 26.4 percent from the field, its worst performance since shooting 24.1 percent in a loss to Texas A&M on Nov. 23, 2007.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said he’s excited the rematch with the Buckeyes has plenty on the line. A loss means his squad would share the regular-season crown with Ohio State. Michigan also can earn a share if the 13th-ranked Wolverines beat Penn State earlier in the day and the archrival Spartans lose.
“It’s everything you want,” Izzo said. “When you’re a kid, you dream of making a 3-point shot to beat Duke in the backyard. As a coach, you dream about putting your team in a position where you can share something special with them and the fans.”
Despite his struggles in the first meeting, Sullinger is a main reason Ohio State (24-6, 12-5) has a chance to win at least a share of three consecutive Big Ten titles for the first time since a run of five straight from 1960-64.
He scored 22 points and grabbed a season-high 18 rebounds Wednesday, hitting the go-head basket with 3.1 seconds remaining to beat Northwestern 75-73.
Sullinger has 12 double-doubles, four behind Green for the Big Ten lead.
With a victory and a Michigan loss Sunday, the Buckeyes would clinch the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.
Michigan State has won 18 straight home games, though Ohio State won the most recent meeting in East Lansing 74-67 on Feb. 21, 2010.
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