Buckeyes battle Spartans in pivotal Big Ten brawl

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Ranked Big Ten Conference rivals square off on Saturday evening, as No. 11 Ohio State comes calling on No. 18 Michigan State.

Both teams come in sporting impressive overall records, Ohio State at 13-3 and Michigan State at 15-3. The two have combined to go 7-2 in conference play, helping them both stay within striking distance of first-place Wisconsin (13-4, 4-0).

Ohio State has won its last two games, the most recent of which being its biggest of the year as it topped previously unbeaten Michigan, 56-53, at home last Sunday. The win improved the Buckeyes to 10-1 in Columbus, and they are hoping to even their true road record at 2-2 with a win in this contest.

Since suffering a 76-63 loss at Minnesota in the conference opener on New Year's Eve, Michigan State has reeled off four straight wins, the latest of which being an 81-72 decision at Penn State on Wednesday night. The Spartans have won all 11 games played at home this season, and the Breslin Center is one of the toughest places for any opponent to come and steal a victory.

Michigan State owns a 60-52 lead in the all-time series with Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have won four of the last six meetings, and three of the last four in East Lansing. When both teams come in ranked in the Top-25, the Spartans lead, 6-5. Both were ranked in all three meetings last season, including the Big Ten Tournament championship game, which MSU won in a 68-64 final.

Deshaun Thomas scored 20 points and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. grabbed 10 rebounds helping Ohio State hand Michigan its first loss of the season last weekend. Thomas was the only Buckeye to reach double figures in the scoring column, although Sam Thompson and Aaron Craft were close with nine points apiece. Overall, OSU shot 44 percent from the floor while UM was just 38.3 percent accurate. Thomas has been a beast for coach Thad Matta's club this season, averaging a Big Ten-best 20.3 ppg behind a shooting effort that sees 47 percent of his total shots and nearly 41 percent of his 3-point tries find the bottom of the net. He also paces the team's rebounding effort with 6.6 per tilt. Smith, Jr. contributes 10.3 ppg as the Buckeyes' only other double-digit scorer at the moment, although five others net between 5.8 and 8.9 ppg, leading a hand in the team as a whole averaging 74.5 ppg. Defensively, Ohio State permits just 57.8 ppg, with foes connecting on only 37.9 percent of their field goal attempts. The Buckeyes are plus-6.3 in rebounding and plus-3.7 in turnover margin.

Adreian Payne came off the bench to score 20 points and grab seven rebounds, both team-highs, to lead Michigan State to its nine-point win at Penn State earlier this week. Four other players hit for double figures for the Spartans, with Gary Harris converting 2-of-3 3-point tries and 6-of-7 free throws to finish with 14 points. As a team, MSU shot 47.3 percent from the field, knocking down seven treys, but it allowed the Nittany Lions a 48 percent success rate overall, and Penn State nearly had two 30-point scorers in the game as Jermaine Marshall tallied 29 points and D.J. Newbill had 27. Keith Appling is a coming off a 12-point performance in the recent win, and he continues to lead Michigan State both in scoring (13.7 ppg) and assists (4.5 apg). Harris adds 12.9 ppg to the mix, and Branden Dawson chips in with 10.2 ppg while coming up with 6.1 rpg. Payne and Derrick Nix grab 7.2 and 7.1 rpg, respectively, helping the team achieve a +8.0 advantage on the glass. Like Ohio State, MSU also plays pretty stingy defense in yielding a mere 58.5 ppg, as its opponents connect on 38.1 percent of their total shots.