Thanks to another impressive performance from junior guard Evan Turner, No. 9 Ohio State won for only the third time in their last 10 trips to the Breslin Center, earning a 74-67 victory against No. 11 Michigan State.
Turner finished with a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds, but he did so after coming up sick and missing nearly all of the team's workouts one day before the game. He played all 40 minutes in the victory.
"Saturday morning you get a call at 7 a.m. saying Turner's sick," the OSU head coach told the Ohio State Basketball Radio Network. "We get him to the arena and see the doctor. I said, ‘Here's what I need from you at practice. I need no sign of weakness. We're just going to walk through, but keep your eyes open.
"He hadn't eaten or slept. I told him that was one of the greatest performances I've ever seen."
With the win, OSU (21-7, 11-4 Big Ten) pulled to within a half-game of conference-leading Purdue. The Buckeyes now have the tiebreaker against the Spartans (21-7, 11-4) by virtue of winning the lone contest between the two teams this season.
It did not come easily. The Buckeyes saw a 14-point second-half lead disappear in the final moments, but with a sellout crowd roaring the visitors did what they have done all season when the going gets tough.
They turned to Turner. The junior guard struggled with his shot for most of the night, but it did not stop him from scoring 16 of his game-high 20 points in the second half as the Buckeyes weathered the storm.
After a three-point play from junior forward David Lighty with 16:02 left in the game appeared to have the Buckeyes well in control, the Spartans began their comeback. A 12-3 run made it 49-44 with 11:55 remaining, and MSU drew within one possession at the 9:17 mark when guard Kalin Lucas scored to make it 53-50.
Turner answered with a jumper to push it back to five. The Spartans countered with a free throw from Draymond Green, but Turner hit two at the other end to make it a 57-51 OSU lead with 8:04 remaining.
The Spartans kept fighting, and after OSU increased its lead to 59-51 on a teardrop from Turner in the paint with 7:10 left they began their charge. An 11-2 run from the home team gave MSU its first lead since the early going on a jumper from junior guard Durrell Summers at the 4:04 mark.
It was short-lived, however, as sophomore guard William Buford drew a foul and hit two free throws 19 seconds later to give his team a one-point lead it would not relinquish. Turner scored six of the team's final 11 points.
The Buckeyes headed into halftime with their largest lead of the game to that point thanks to a jumper by reserve Kyle Madsen that rolled around and fell in with four seconds remaining to set the score at 39-26.
In the early going of the half, however, it looked like the lack of aggression that doomed OSU to a loss in its previous outing was going to carry over into this game. The Spartans scored the first four points of the game and opened up a 10-4 lead at the 15:41 mark during a stretch in which the Buckeyes were 2 for 6 from the floor and committed one turnover.
The Spartans made it 12-8 two minutes later on a basket by reserve Garrick Sherman, but that would be the last time they would score for quite some time. The Buckeyes countered two possessions later with a dunk from junior center Dallas Lauderdale after he grabbed his own rebound that made the score 12-10, and a serious run was on.
When junior guard Jon Diebler connected on a three-pointer at the 8:15 mark, it capped a 15-0 run for the Buckeyes that made the score 23-12 in favor of the home team. During that stretch, the Spartans missed nine shots from the floor and committed two turnovers.
They would break the streak with a pair of free throws from senior forward Raymar Morgan at the 8:05 mark, but they would have a shot blocked on their next possession before finally scoring from the field with 7:26 remaining on a three-point play from Summers.
His basket made it a six-point OSU lead at 23-17, but the Buckeyes scored the next three points to push it to a nine-point lead that would grow to 12 with 3:13 remaining when Buford found a loose ball near his basket and scored.
For the half, the Spartans were 9 for 26 (34.6 percent) from the floor and had assists on four of those baskets against what was predominantly a man-to-man defense for the Buckeyes. OSU was 16 for 36 (44.4 percent) from the field with eight assists.
"I'm really, really proud of our guys," Matta said. "We got off to a slow start and they fought back in. We got some shots to drop (and) I thought our defense really picked up. I didn't think that we played perfect but we played hard and that was the biggest difference."
The Buckeyes opened up their first-half lead despite a quiet half from Turner. The team's leading scorer for the season was held to four points on 2 of 9 shooting, with most of his attempts coming on deep jumpers. Buford picked up the slack, netting 13 first-half points on 5 of 8 shooting.
Turner was not the only big name to have a rough half, however. MSU's Lucas, who was named the Big Ten player of the year last season ahead of Turner, missed all five of his shot attempts and had one point. He finished with seven points on 2 of 12 shooting.