EAST LANSING, Mich. - The mark of a good team is learning from its past mistakes.
The Ohio State Buckeyes held a 39-26 lead at halftime against Michigan State Sunday and lessons past from West Virginia reminded this team that it would have to hang tough.
Thanks to some clutch plays by Evan Turner down the stretch the Buckeyes (21-7, 11-4) were able to hold off the Spartans 74-67 in a game in which Michigan State (21-7, 11-4) fought back from a 14-point deficit.
Turner battled back from a head cold that kept him out of practice leading up to the MSU game and was essentially a game time decision. Turner ended up with 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists on the afternoon despite feeling beyond under the weather.
"He got up here last night and laid in the bleachers while we shot," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "Afterwards he went to his room and we didn't see him, he slept all the way through. This morning he came down for breakfast and loaded up his plate and never touched a bite of it. I was like, 'This is not good' but I thought he did a great job of battling through it."
William Buford threw in 17 points and ten rebounds while Dallas Lauderdale had eight points and eight rebounds despite being saddled with foul trouble that was only magnified when Kyle Madsen fouled out of the game.
Michigan State was led by Durrell Summers' 16 points and Raymar Morgan had nine points and 14 boards. Even with Morgan going off on the glass the Buckeyes managed to outrebound the Spartans and Matta knew that the rebounding edge would go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.
"They do such a terrific job of rebounding on both ends of the floor and we felt that if we could keep the rebounding close that we would have a chance to win the basketball game," Matta said.
The Buckeyes grabbed their lead in the first half after a 15-0 run that erased a four point deficit mostly on the backs of Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty. While the Buckeyes were connecting on 44-percent of their shots the Spartans were stuck in neutral and that was a major source of frustration for Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo.
"I can't figure out why we played so sluggishly most of that first half," Izzo said. "The game plan was to run and run and run and I don't think we ran at all. We just weren't pushing it and I don't know why."
Ohio State has held leads on the road at halftime before and while the Buckeyes' last road game at Illinois saw them just keep pouring it on there was an eerie feeling for the Scarlet and Gray faithful that a potential West Virginia re-run could be in store. The Buckeyes held a lead of 12 points at the halfway mark before giving it up en route to a six point loss.
"Coach always talks about when you lose that you have got to learn from your mistakes and I think we have really learned from that game," Diebler said. "We started off hot similar to this game and they got back in and made a run and we didn't handle it. I think we have shown a lot of maturity and that shows where we have progress."
The Spartans completed their comeback around the four minute mark after a Summer jumper that seemed to break just right Michigan State. The superstitious Matta felt for a moment like the stars were lining up against him and his team.
"We told our guys at halftime that we were playing one of the best teams in the country that they are going to make a run at you," Matta said. "Sure enough they did... the play where they took the lead I think it ricocheted all five of our guys and they pick it up and at that point I don't know if this is a good sign. I thought they showed composure and kept it together."
Turner scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half and after Michigan State took the lead was responsible for six of Ohio State's final 13 points. But the home team felt that it was more than just Turner that worked against them and most of the damage was self-inflicted.
"He didn't beat us I don't think," Izzo said. "Us missing 10 of 18 free throws and some wide open shots and a dunk and a lay-up in the last five minutes hurt us. I thought Diebler hurt us in the one stretch. We expected Turner to do what he did and that was the quietest 20 points I have seen him. But that is the way he plays, he is a very solid player and played well."
The game got physical toward the end and there were a couple of occasions where it appeared that the teams were jawing but Diebler felt that familiarity bred part of the rivalry.
"It was just people playing with intensity," Diebler said. "There is nothing personal it is just the heat of the game. We know a lot of their guys because there are a couple of them from Ohio."
Turner saw it more as the Spartans trying to get into Buckeye heads and he wasn't going to stand for that one bit.
"Michigan State really tries to punk you and stuff like that," Turner said. "If you give into it you show weakness and they can take your heart. I definitely wasn't allowing that and my teammates were not allowing and we were just letting them know we were ready for a brawl if it came to it."
The Buckeyes have now won at Michigan State, Illinois and Purdue on the season. What does that say about this team, a team that just a couple of years ago struggled for a marquee road win?
"It says that we are a pretty good basketball team and those are obviously tough places to win at," Matta said. "This place today was electric but I think when you look at the places that we have had to play even in non-conference at Butler and West Virginia there is nothing that they haven't seen."
The Buckeyes and Spartans now trail Purdue by a game in the loss column and the Boilermakers control their own destiny but have a tough one with Michigan State coming to town next weekend. The Buckeyes will lay in wait with games coming up at Penn State and home versus Michigan and Illinois. The Big Ten race is still wide open and everyone believes that it could come down to the final weekend.