East Lansing, MI (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of teams still clinging to hope of challenging for the Big Ten Conference crown get together on Saturday, as the 23rd-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes take on the Michigan State Spartans at the Breslin Center.
Ohio State enters the weekend in a tie for second place in the Big Ten standings with Maryland, as both teams have 8-4 league ledgers. Wisconsin is in first place at 10-1. The Buckeyes are riding a modest two-game win streak, first topping Rutgers on the road (79-60), and then beating up on visiting Penn State this past Wednesday night (75-55). OSU is just 3-4 in true road games this season.
Michigan State was considered a serious contender to challenge for the Big Ten title prior to the season beginning, but Tom Izzo's club has underachieved in the eyes of many as it comes into this contest sporting a 16-8 overall record, which includes a 7-4 mark in conference. The Spartans claimed a 68-44 win at Northwestern on Tuesday to notch their third win in the last four outings. MSU is 10-3 at home this season, but its most recent tilt there resulted in a 59-54 loss to Illinois last Saturday.
Michigan State leads the all-time series with Ohio State, 62-54, and that includes a 38-17 advantage in East Lansing. The Buckeyes have won three of the last four meetings. This is the only scheduled matchup between the two teams this season.
Sam Thompson scored a career-high 22 points and D'Angelo Russell added 17 points to go with seven assists, as Ohio State thrashed Penn State at home earlier this week. The Buckeyes didn't exactly torch the nets, hitting 44.4 percent of their total shots, including 6-of-16 3-point tries, but they held the Nittany Lions to 32.2 percent field goal efficiency, and they logged a 21-11 edge in points at the free-throw line as well. Shannon Scott finished with 10 rebounds and six helpers for OSU, which scored 21 points off 15 PSU turnovers.
Russell is the Big Ten's second-leading scorer at the moment, as he nets 19.4 ppg by shooting 47.2 percent from the floor, 43.8 percent from beyond the arc and 78.8 percent at the foul line. Russell, who also spearheads Ohio State's rebounding effort by grabbing 5.9 rpg while serving as one its primary playmakers by handing out 5.5 apg, is joined in double figures by both Marc Loving (11.7 ppg) and Thompson (10.2 ppg). Scott has dished out 156 helpers for a squad that puts up 78.9 ppg thanks to a 50.1 percent shooting effort, 38.7 percent from distance. The Buckeyes' defensive stance yields only 61.2 ppg on 38.7 percent accuracy from the field, 31.1 percent out on the perimeter, while forcing nearly 16 turnovers per contest.
Michigan State played stingy defense, particularly in the first half, in its recent win over Northwestern, as it held the Wildcats to 35.7 percent shooting from the floor while goading them into 15 miscues. NU made good on only 4- of-22 field goal attempts in the opening frame, and trailed 38-14 at intermission. For the Spartans, Travis Trice scored 16 points in 25 minutes of action off the bench, while Denzel Valentine nailed four treys to finish with 14 points. He added eight assists, and Bryn Forbes chipped in 11 points in the victory.
For the season, Valentine (14.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.4 apg), Trice (13.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.4 apg) and Branden Dawson (11.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg) all average double digits in the scoring column for a team that generates 72.5 ppg behind typical shooting outputs of .470 overall and .398 from 3-point land. The Spartans, who lead the conference in assists (17.4 apg), have struggled at the charity stripe. converting a league-worst 62.3 percent of their free throws. Defensively, Michigan State is permitting just 61.4 ppg to rank just behind Ohio State in the upper half of the Big Ten standings. The Spartans lead the league in both field goal percentage defense (.385) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (.300), and they are also No. 1 in rebounding margin (+8.5).