The Spartan senior popped for a season-high of 28 points as No. 19 Michigan State knocked the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten tournament Friday with a 67-60 win in Conseco Fieldhouse. Now, OSU sits on the bubble and waits for Sunday night's selection show.
Just as disappointing to the Buckeyes that the streaky guard made his points was how he did so, starting the game off hot and leaving then leading the charge that buried the Buckeyes during the last four minutes of play.
Neitzel started the game hot, draining a three-pointer on the first possession of the game, and never cooled down. He made 9 of 17 shots overall and drained 6 of 12 from three-point range, never turning down a shot as the game went on.
"I don't know why he's been a little more gun-shy this year, but he picked a good time to open it up," MSU head coach Tom Izzo said of his senior that averaged 18.4 points per game last season but saw his scoring average drop to 13.4 this campaign.
It was just unfortunate for OSU that the Buckeyes and head coach Thad Matta were on the receiving end on the day Neitzel blew up.
"Yes, I'd like a get-well card," Matta joked when asked if he felt a little snakebit. "With the two games Drew had against us last year, we knew he was very capable."
Neitzel twice went into 20-point range in his two games against the Scarlet and Gray last year. First, he dropped 24 second-half points and 29 overall on OSU during a Buckeye win Jan. 27 in Columbus, then he came back less than week later on Feb. 3 with 24 more against OSU in another MSU loss.
This year, though things haven't quite been as rosy for Neitzel. He had a quiet 13 points during Michigan State's win over the Buckeyes Jan. 15, and then finished with just six on 2-of-9 shooting during OSU's regular-season ending win March 9.
But today was a new day for the 6-0, 185-pounder from Grand Rapids, Mich.
"That's the best I've felt (all year)," Neitzel said. "I just wanted to come out and be aggressive. I think that in a lot of games this year, I've been aggressive at certain points and other parts of the game I just sit back and let my teammates do the work. I just wanted to be aggressive for the whole game and take my shots when they were there."
By the time the first half had ended, Neitzel had 14 points on 5-10 shooting and was 4-7 from beyond the arc. After his opening trey, MSU scored two buckets on putbacks before Neitzel broke behind the defense after a Matt Terwilliger miss with 16:10 left in the period and made a layup to make the score 9-6 and cause Matta to pound the scorer's table in disgust.
That basket was symptomatic of one of the problems in containing Neitzel, according to OSU guard David Lighty.
"It's pretty much up to us," Lighty said. "We have to find him and stop him from making shots, not let him get the shot off and things like that. We kind of fell asleep on him, now knowing where he was on the court."
Two times in the final three minutes the Buckeyes again lost the one guy on the court they couldn't lose, mental errors that will serve as a sort of symbolic reason the Buckeyes might fall short of NCAA play. Both came after OSU had cut the MSU lead to three points only to see Neitzel score on the ensuing possession.
The first time came after Othello Hunter had scored in transition on an assist from P.J. Hill with 2:19 left to play. MSU called timeout to set itself, and on the inbound play, Neitzel shook free, took the pass and glided to the basket untouched for a layup to make the score 58-53 in favor of the Spartans.
Again OSU cut the lead to three on two Jamar Butler free throws with 1:51 left, and the Buckeyes held the Spartans without a shot for much of the ensuing shot clock. But good ball movement worked it to guard Kalin Lucas at the top of the key. Both Lighty and Hill went to Lucas, leaving Neitzel alone on the right wing. Lucas made the extra pass, Neitzel hit nothing but net and the Buckeyes' backs were effectively broken.
"Neitzel … made some huge shots," Matta said. "We were in scramble mode and he shot it from about 25 feet. That was probably the backbreaker for us."
With the Buckeyes effectively vanquished and MSU on to face Wisconsin in the Big Ten tourney semifinals, all the Buckeyes could do was tip their hats by the time the game was over.
"He hit big shots," OSU guard Evan Turner said. "You can't get mad at that. He hit big shots to help his team win."