EAST LANSING, Mich. — Gathered underneath a green tarp emblazoned with a white Spartans logo, Ohio State prepared to storm the court at the Breslin Center. As they did, one player noticed a Michigan State green tackling dummy pushed off to the side.
As boos rained down on the Buckeyes, that player landed a hard right cross to the dummy that sent it wobbling and continued to the hardwood. It was the first blow of many Tuesday night in a game between two teams desperate to make a case for NCAA Tournament consideration.
In the end, Ohio State came up wanting and Michigan State came away with a crucial win 74-66.
The Buckeyes (15-12, 5-9 Big Ten) have now lost two straight, both on the road, and have lost their most conference games in Thad Matta’s 13 seasons.
Ahead 36-34 with 1:42 left in the first half, Michigan State (16-10, 8-5) looked to have taken control moments into the second half. Ohio State called a timeout after a Joshua Langford reverse layup with 18:13 to play pushed the Spartans' lead to a game-high 12 points at 46-34, and from there the Buckeyes rallied but couldn’t overcome the deficit.
Ohio State twice pulled within a point, first at 47-46, then again at 52-51 after Trevor Thompson scored in the paint with 11:32 to play. Ohio State got the ball back after a third straight Michigan State offensive foul on as many possessions, but JaQuan Lyle passed up a look at the basket for an ill-advised alley-oop to Thompson that the center couldn’t corral.
Alvin Ellis III scored on a running floater to push it back to a three-point lead to start a 7-0 Spartans run that was finally too much.
Lyle, who had been away from the team since last Thursday to be with his ailing sister, Jala, and missed Saturday’s loss at No. 21 Maryland, returned in a big way early. Off the bench, Lyle hit his first basket of the game on a step-back jumper from the right wing and had a team-high 10 points at the half but did not score in the second.
Michigan State took the lead early thanks to a career night from Ellis, who scored 18 points. The senior guard buried his first five three-pointers, the final of which gave the Spartans a 21-12 lead. When play was stopped with 11:34 to play and the lead at 23-14, the full-throated Izzone student section chanted his name as he was swarmed while heading back to the bench.
His career high was three three-pointers in a game, and he would predictably cool. When he did, the Buckeyes started to fight their way back. Four different Ohio State players scored during a 10-0 run capped by a Kam Williams three-pointer with 7:21 to play that gave the Buckeyes their first lead of the game at 24-23 and set the stage for what was to come.
Michigan State led 40-34 at the half despite Buckeyes starters Jae’Sean Tate, Marc Loving and Thompson being limited by significant foul trouble. Tate was held scoreless, while Thompson had only two points during the first half.