Chicago, IL – Aaron Craft netted 18 of his 20 points in the second half and dished out nine helpers, as No. 10 Ohio State edged eighth- ranked Michigan State, 61-58, in Big Ten semifinal action.
Deshaun Thomas scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Buckeyes (25-7), who have won seven straight and advance to the title game to play Wisconsin on Sunday.
"Well, I thought, like all Big Ten games, that was a high powered college basketball game," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "I thought our guys did a good job of keeping their composure. It was a game of runs. They got up on us, we got up on them. "
Derrick Nix paced Michigan State with 17 points and nine boards and Keith Appling poured in 16 points for the Spartans (25-8), who were looking to repeat as Big Ten champs after defeating the Buckeyes in last year's title game.
With under five minutes to play and Michigan State trailing, 57-49, Nix started and capped off a 7-0 swing to bring the Spartans within 57-56 with 1:54 remaining.
On the next Ohio State possession, Nix had a costly mistake though, as he aggressively fouled Craft on a layup attempt by grabbing his upper torso and forcing him to the ground. The referees met to review the play and determined it was a flagrant foul.
Craft made 1-of-2 from the free throw line as a result, plus Ohio State had another possession to take some time off the clock.
After a timeout and with 32 seconds to play, Thomas peeled off a screen and hit a jumper that rattled off the rim and backboard before going in to make it a four-point contest with 22 ticks remaining.
Michigan State couldn't respond as Appling's layup attempt missed and the Buckeyes were able to hold on for the victory.
"You know, I think we had some chances, and yet they just played a little smarter than us down the stretch," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "And I might as well start out with saying it was the correct call on that play. I don't think it was intentional. We got beat up top, and just felt like it was going to be a layup, so he reached out. And I've got absolutely no problem with the call."
Ohio State opened up the second half outscoring the Spartans 9-4 for a 37-33 lead, though Payne heated up around the midway point of the half, accounting for seven straight points to bring MSU within 48-47.
After a LaQuinton Ross free throw, Craft then supplied the team's next six points for a 55-47 lead with 7:22 remaining, but the Spartans didn't go down quietly.
Appling's layup with eight minutes to play in the first half put the Spartans ahead 21-19, though both squads struggled offensively to close the period.
Michigan State led at the break, 29-28.
The Buckeyes last won the Big Ten title in 2011 with a 71-60 triumph over Penn State ... OSU can win its third Big Ten title in four years with a victory Sunday ... Craft added four steals in the win ... The Buckeyes lost the rebounding battle, 35-38, but outscored the MSU bench 15-6.