Things were good for Michigan State. Then things were a little less good. Then things were really good again. Then they were a little iffy again.
But it all balanced out for the Spartans, as they beat Ohio State 76-67 on Friday.
It was the 16th of the past 18 games between the Spartans and Buckeyes that was decided by 10 points or less, but it probably should have been a much wide margin.
After a closely played game that concluded with a Denzel Valentine 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left in February, the Spartans came out looking like a far better team than they were at that point, The same couldn’t really be said for the Buckeyes, who showed life in spurts, but were outplayed for much of the game.
Valentine finished with 23 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, while Branden Dawson came back from injury to post 14 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three blocks.
Michigan State led by as many as 16 in the first half, buoyed by 13 assists on 15 field goals – par for the unselfish play that has been a big part of this team.
As Ohio State struggled, going 9:11 with just one field, Michigan State had no such issues. Easy buckets from Dawson and 10 of Valentine’s 12 first-half points from got MSU out to a 29-13 lead.
A quick 10-2 run for the Buckeyes closed the gap to eight and that was the gap – 36-28 – at halftime.
The teams traded buckets for three possessions to open the second half and a Sam Thompson layup with 16:49 left to play pulled OSU within 43-37. But neither team could get much offense going as they went scoreless for almost the next three minutes and Valentine had the lone bucket in a 5:19 span.
Travis Trice, who had been quiet early, got his shot going midway through the second as he hit a pair of 3-pointers then a layup to put MSU ahead 55-41.
The lead grew to 17 when Tum Tum Nairn hit a free throw with 6:39 to go, but things got tight again.
A 10-0 OSU run sparked by Shannon Scott and D’Angelo Russell got OSU back within 7 at 60-53.
With 3:11 left, a Marc Loving three got OSU to 61-56, but Michigan State converted at the hoop and at the free-throw line to take home the win.
Trice finished with 18 points.
The Spartans will meet Maryland in a semifinal game at around 3:30 p.m. Saturday.