William Buford scored 23 points and Aaron Craft had a hand in two critical plays down the stretch to lead No. 2 Ohio State to a 71-61 win over Michigan State on Tuesday night.
It was a hard-fought struggle for the Buckeyes (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.
Jon Diebler and David Lighty each had 12 points. Jared Sullinger, averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds, was limited to 11 and 2. Craft, a freshman substitute point guard, had seven points, four assists, four steals and three rebounds.
Kalin Lucas led the Spartans (14-11, 6-7) with 14 points, while Adreian Payne and Draymond Green each had 10.
The Buckeyes finished the game on an 18-10 run to pull away.
The game turned the game with two quick defensive stops.
With the Buckeyes hanging on to a 45-44 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, 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.
During one span, the Spartans had turnovers on four of five possessions.
Now with the lead, 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 came up with a big effort play soon after.
As the ball was going out of bounds under the Michigan State basket, center Garrick Sherman turned and fired it down the court. For an instance no one reacted. But then Craft sped the length of the floor, corralled the ball and hit a twisting reverse layup while being fouled. He completed the three-point play.
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.
Moments later, 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 victory extended Ohio State's home winning streak to 18. In coach Thad Matta's seven seasons, they are 102-2 against unranked teams in Columbus.
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, who had 332.
Ohio State led 35-34 at halftime of a wild, physical and stressful first half. There were nine ties and 11 lead changes, with both teams saddled by foul trouble to key personnel. Six players had two fouls apiece, four of them Spartans.