Stakes often have been high in recent meetings between Michigan State and Ohio State, and Saturday’s will be no different.
In a rematch of last season’s Big Ten championship game, the eighth-ranked Spartans face the No. 10 Buckeyes in the conference tournament semifinals in Chicago.
Neither team was able to secure another regular-season championship in the nation’s toughest league, but they’ll each look to prevent the other from winning the tournament title – something Ohio State was unable to do last season.
After the Buckeyes earned a share of last year’s Big Ten championship with a 72-70 road win over the Spartans in the final meeting of the regular season, Michigan State completed its run through the tournament with a 68-64 victory in the title game and grabbed a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
This year’s semifinal contest also could carry seeding ramifications as both second-seeded Ohio State (24-7) and third-seeded Michigan State (25-7) seek the best possible draw for next week’s tournament.
The Spartans won this season’s first meeting 59-56 on Jan. 19 at home, but Aaron Craft scored a career-high 21 points and added six assists in Ohio State’s 68-60 win Feb. 24 in Columbus.
“We are not here to just kind of have fun and be in a new city,” Craft said. “This is an opportunity to hopefully put another banner up in the gym and that’s the way to look at it. Hopefully we can be there at the end again.”
Craft had eight assists to give him 500 for his career as the Buckeyes knocked off Nebraska 71-50 in the quarterfinals Friday. Deshaun Thomas and Chicago native Sam Thompson scored 19 points apiece to help Ohio State win its sixth straight.
The Buckeyes hit 17 of 22 from the field in the second half, finishing at 59.1 percent for the game after shooting 42.7 percent over their previous six.
“We know we’ve got to take our shooting really seriously,” said Thomas, who scored 28 points at Michigan State. “The one thing we did out there, we shared the ball as a team. Sam Thompson (8 for 9) had a great shooting night.”
Craft, though, hopes Ohio State can get off to a better start Saturday.
“We can’t afford to not be ready to go at the beginning, otherwise, maybe we won’t be able to come back,” Craft said.
The Spartans may be echoing those thoughts after having to overcome a 12-point second-half deficit to defeat Iowa 59-56 in their quarterfinal matchup later Friday.
They hit only 8 of 30 from the field in the first half and shot 38.6 percent for the game, but forced 19 turnovers – their second-most of the season – and got 18 points and 10 rebounds from Adreian Payne.
“I have to blame myself, because I made a big deal about us showing up for 31 (games), and we didn’t show up today for the first half and that really does fall on me,” coach Tom Izzo said. “I can say 98 percent of this year, we’ve shown up every game, and I’ll look at this as an out?of?body experience and get ready for Ohio State.”
The Buckeyes and Spartans have split four meetings in the Big Ten tournament. Saturday’s winner will face either No. 3 Indiana or No. 22 Wisconsin in Sunday’s championship game.
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