Ohio State, thanks to a strong offensive performance from Shannon Scott, clawed their way back into the game at Michigan State, but the Spartans’ Denzel Valentine got the last laugh. The junior got free from Sam Thompson and drained a three off his back foot with 3.2 seconds left to provide the difference in Michigan State’s 59-56 win.
“That was an incredible shot,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. “I thought we had him right where we wanted him in terms of how the action developed and he shoots it off his back foot and it goes in. Give Michigan State credit today, they made the final play that they needed to.”
Ohio State turned the ball over on the ensuing in-bounds play, sealing its fate.
The Buckeyes (19-7, 8-5) appeared to know that the final play was for Valentine, but a pin-down screen from the Spartans (17-8, 8-4) created separation between the guard and Thompson. Michigan State needed the heroics after Thompson nailed a three-pointer to tie the game with 36 seconds remaining on a drive and kick from D’Angelo Russell.
While Thompson set up the Spartans game winner, Scott was the reason the Buckeyes were able to get back in the game.
The senior point guard scored nine second-half points to help Ohio State claw their way back from a 33-24 halftime deficit. A midrange jumper from Scott gave the Buckeyes a 49-47 lead with 5:22 remaining, their first lead after intermission.
He finished with a team-high 15 points along with 5 assists and 5 rebounds.
“We played hard,” Scott said. “I think we played a pretty good basketball game. Michigan State just hit some great shots at the end so we gotta live with that.”
Scott’s jumper, which came after an offensive rebound form Russell, capped a 17-7 run by the Buckeyes in which the point guard scored all of his second-half points.
Michigan State answered with a jumper from Lourawls Nairn Jr. to tie it before a Russell two gave Ohio State their final lead of the game at 51-52 with four minutes remaining. That jumper came after a nice behind-the-back crossover from the freshman, but Russell finished with just 10 points, his second-lowest point total of the season and the worst output in conference play.
“I thought we did a very good job on Russell,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “He’s maybe the best player in this league. He’s so hard to guard. We worked hard with (Brandon) Dawson on him, we worked with Tum (Nairn) on him, we worked with Denzel on him. Denzel is starting to take the challenge of guarding the best players and I thought he did a good job.”
The Russell jumper provided his only second-half points as the freshman went scoreless for 26:23 of game time.
He did get things started Saturday, hitting a turnaround jumper on the opening possession to give Ohio State a lead. A pair of threes from Russell gave the Buckeyes an 18-13 advantage early, their largest lead in the game. Michigan State got out in transition from there, closing the half on a 20-6 run.
The Spartans scored 10 points in transition in the first half, but none after intermission. Instead, Ohio State was able to get out and run, fueling their comeback with six points in transition in the second half.
“We wanted to make them score against our half-court defense,” Thompson said. “Whenever we get a stop, no matter what team, no matter what situation we always try to run. We wanted to get back, make it tough for them and get out and run our offense.”
That got Ohio State back in the game as a transition dunk from Thompson tied the score for the first time in the second half at 46, but the Buckeyes couldn’t get over the hump against the Spartans. Four possessions later Russell hit his jumper, but Michigan State regained the lead with a Valentine three before Dawson hit two key free throws.
Amir Williams and Travis Trice traded baskets to set up Thompson’s game-tying shot, but Valentine, who scored 10 of his game-high 18 after halftime, was there to seal the win for the Spartans.
“We know there's going to be some close games, we know we're going to come out on top, we know we're going to lose some,” Thompson said. “It's our job to work as hard and play as hard throughout the game to put us in the position to win those games. We've been in a position to win but we haven't gotten it done. But we gotta keep going.
“Michigan State played great, we played hard, we played well. They made one more shot than we did.”
The Buckeyes get more than a week to think about the close loss before returning to the Mitten State for a game at Michigan Feb. 22.