COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Big Ten's best shooting team over the first 11 conference games was far from its best on Saturday.
Thanks in large part to 11th-ranked Michigan State's withering, physical defense, No. 3 Ohio State hit just 26 percent from the field — almost half as good as its 49 percent coming in — in a surprising 58-48 loss on Saturday.
Asked how the Buckeyes handled Michigan State's defense, point guard Aaron Craft had a simple answer.
"Look at the final score," he said. "Not so well."
Jared Sullinger hit his average with 17 points and added 16 rebounds, but he said the culprit in the defense was that the Buckeyes lost track of who they are.
"We looked out of synch," he said after hitting just 5 of 15 shots from the field. "If we executed our offense, I think some of those shots would have gone in. We went out of our system. Everybody didn't pay attention to plays, didn't run plays correctly."
Coach Thad Matta said this could be a turning point for his team.
"It's got to be a learning experience for a relatively young basketball team," he said. "We have to look at why we didn't play well. We have to get those things corrected. First and foremost, we've got to stay together."
Had the Buckeyes (21-4, 9-3) won, they would have owned a two-game stranglehold on the Big Ten with six games left. Now they're deadlocked atop the league with the Spartans (20-5, 9-3). And Michigan State hosts the rematch in East Lansing on March 4.
"You're still sitting atop the conference," Matta said. "We'll see what kind of a team we have when we come back tomorrow for practice."
Ohio native Adreian Payne scored 15 points, Keith Appling 14 and Draymond Green had 12 for Michigan State, which snapped a three-game losing skid to the Buckeyes while erasing Ohio State's 39-game home winning streak.
The Spartans built a 10-point lead at the half and never allowed the Buckeyes to get closer than four points in the second half.
Sullinger, usually a threat to toss quick passes back to perimeter shooters, was attacked from all angles by Michigan State's cloying defense. He ended up with 10 turnovers.
He said the Spartans were no more physical than anybody else in the conference.
"That's every night in the Big Ten," he said.
Ohio State pulled to 44-40 on a 15-footer by Sullinger with 6:24 left, but Appling hit two free throws and Derrick Nix coaxed in a baby hook to push the lead back to eight.
Payne followed by banking in a left-handed shot over Sullinger, before Sullinger was called for a charge to pick up his fourth foul with 2 minutes left. Green then drove around Deshaun Thomas for a baseline layup to stretch the lead to 10.
Ohio State never got closer than eight again.
"We had a couple guys who defended pretty well, we had a couple of guys when we got it in the post scored, we had a couple guys kick it out, we had a couple of big 3s in the first half," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "In general, we played pretty good, maybe one of our best games in a lot of ways — and we still barely beat them."
Deshaun Thomas and William Buford, averaging a combined 30 points, totaled just 12 — each hitting just 2 of 12 shots from the field.
No wonder the Buckeyes were held 29 points under their season scoring average.
"Defensively we probably did a good enough job — not a great job — but a good enough job to win the game," Matta said. "It all came down to our inability to put the ball in the basket today."
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