Monday, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo was explaining how many great games his team has played against Ohio State in recent years, how the two teams are developing quite a rivalry.
Well, Tuesday provided another classic to add to the list.
The No. 5 Spartans upended the No. 3 Buckeyes in East Lansing, but just relaying the winner and loser hardly does this games justice.
Michigan State played unbelievably, particularly on the defensive end, through the first 30-plus minutes, and they opened up a 17-point lead with more than seven minutes left in the game. But then Ohio State clamped down at the defensive end and stormed back, ending the second half on a 20-3 run to force overtime. A back-and-forth battle raged on in the extra period before Spartans senior guard Keith Appling connected on a tie-breaking 3-pointer and Buckeyes freshman shooter Marc Loving was bottled up on a 3-point attempt in the closing seconds. Michigan State pulled out a dramatic, 72-68 victory to hand Ohio State its first loss of the season.
"We probably played 30 minutes of the greatest basketball we ever played," Izzo said post game. "We were beating them at the things they're good at. But they killed us on the boards, and there were a couple of guys that just didn’t show up for us. To lose a lead like that, it’s hard to feel good about. I still think it says something about a team that loses a 17-point lead then comes back to win it."
Ohio State's comeback will be the enduring headline from Tuesday night, and it was stunning. The Buckeyes used terrific defense, which they've played all season, as well as impressive, at times amazing hustle plays to get the game back to a tie. Ohio State guards Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott rank first and second in the Big Ten in steals, and they showed it. Scott had three by himself, and the team stole a total of eight passes. Craft will make all the highlight shows thanks to an inbounds play at the height of the comeback where he threw the ball off the rear end of Adreian Payne and regathered it himself for an easy layup.
Ohio State actually could have won the game at the end of regulation when Scott stole the ball and raced to the basket, but Appling barely deflected his layup attempt before Payne knocked it off the rim, preventing a put-back dunk.
Plays like those are what make these two teams special. Prior to the remarkable exploits of the Buckeyes during their comeback, it was the Spartans who were playing world-class defense, preventing the Buckeyes from getting anything going on the offensive end. Michigan State had nine steals of their own.
"They’re really, really good defensively," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said after the game. "They don’t get credit enough for their defense. They’re really, really good."
But apart from the teams' defensive prowess, the Big Ten put two of its biggest stars on a national stage Tuesday night in Appling and Craft. The point-guard battle lived up to the hype. Craft wowed with those aforementioned hustle plays and his defensive effort, even if he didn't pile up the points. Appling, meanwhile, scored a game-high 20 points, dished out seven assists and hauled in six rebounds.
None of Appling's points were bigger, though, than his 3-pointer with 29 seconds left in overtime, which proved to be the game-winning bucket.
And, according to his coach, Appling was hurting, too. Both he and Payne — who had plenty of big shots of his own, including a couple of ferocious put-back dunks and a huge 3-pointer in overtime — were playing injured: Appling battling cramps and Payne fighting pain due to plantar fasciitis. Izzo called the efforts from his senior stars "heroic."
"Keith just couldn’t go. Both his legs were cramped up. They were working on them every minute. He couldn’t get open to save his life. You want to write a story? Write it on his character and his heart," Izzo told reporters. "Because he sucked it up and so did Payne.
"It was totally up to him," Izzo said of Payne, who didn't start and wasn't even supposed to play. "I talked to him before the game and he was jogging around a little bit and he was in tears and told me he couldn’t go. I said fine, just come out here and see how it goes. I think I’m going to hurt the other ankle tomorrow, to be honest, because he was pretty active with all the dunks and what not."
For Michigan State, it's another huge win, the team's second over a top-three opponent this season. For Ohio State, the dream of an undefeated season is dashed. But don't expect the Buckeyes to fall too far in the polls. This loss is as "quality" as they come. The objective for the Buckeyes now becomes bouncing back, and they'll have to do it against another ranked opponent, No. 20 Iowa, on Sunday.
"I don’t know who Michigan State plays, but I know we’ve got a tough one on Sunday. You know, it just keeps coming," Matta said. "We’ll build on the positives from this game, and we’ll correct the negatives. We’ll get ready to go again because it doesn’t get any easier."