It was a phenomenal season of Big Ten basketball. There were so many moments to sift through that choosing the best game of the year is a near impossible task, but one just stood out enough to gain that title. Michigan State's 72-68 victory over Ohio State on Jan. 7 was the best B1G game of the 2013-14 season.
At the time, these were the No. 3, Ohio State, and No. 5, Michigan State, teams in the country. Obviously the Buckeyes took quite a dive from then, and Michigan State rode a roller coaster to the B1G conference championship and eventually the elite eight. However, on Jan. 7, OSU and MSU were two of the top 5 teams in the country, and unlike a majority of the season, the Spartans were healthy, as Gary Harris, Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson all played 30-plus minutes.
The hype for this game simply could not be contained. The Breslin Center was packed full with a rowdy student section extending from baseline to baseline. The action on the court would not disappoint. Michigan State came out strong, grabbing a 11-5 almost seven minutes in. Ohio State fired back quickly, pulling ahead 19-17 before the Spartans went on an 11-2 run to give them a 28-21 lead at half.
In the second half, MSU broke it open. Several thunderous Adreian Payne dunks and silky Gary Harris jumpers helped the Spartans push it to a 55-38 lead with eight minutes left in regulation. Of course, it wouldn't be the game of the year without a comeback. Sam Thompson made seven straight points for the Buckeyes and Marc Loving added a couple baskets before Aaron Craft pulled off the one of the most impressive series you'll ever see in college basketball.
With 2:02 left, Craft completed an and-one after a made layup and foul on Denzel Valentine. About a minute later, OSU missed a couple shots and the ball changed hands several times before Craft did what only Aaron Craft does. The senior dove in-between several Spartans to grab a loose ball and call a timeout. On the ensuing inbound, Craft threw the ball off Adreian Payne's back and laid it in to pull the Buckeyes within a point, 57-56.
Payne would hit a free throw and Amir Williams got a dunk to make it a tie with 21 seconds left. Keith Appling turned the ball over with six seconds left, but Shannon Scott could not convert on the other end. It was hard to believe the game was going to OT. Just minutes earlier, it was a 17-point game. The Buckeyes had gone on a 20-3 run against a Spartan team that was really imposing its will on the Buckeyes. The game was going to end how all the ones for the ages do, with free basketball.
Sam Thompson's two made free throws to start overtime gave OSU their first lead since it was 19-17. The Spartans responded with threes from Payne, Appling and Kenny Kaminski, and they led 69-66 with 34 seconds left. A pair of makes from the charity stripe by Marc Loving made it a one-point game, but Loving would miss a three and Appling made three of four from the line to ice it in the closing seconds.
Appling led the way for Michigan State, finishing with 20 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. Adreian Payne had 18 points and 6 boards, and Gary Harris added 13 points of his own. The Spartans won the turnover margin 21-17 and shot 11-19 on three-pointers in the victory.
Ohio State struggled from deep, shooting 4-18 on three-pointers. Despite the shooting woes, the Buckeyes won the rebounding battle 42-28, including 15 offensive boards, which largely kept them in the game. Thompson and Loving were the only Buckeyes in double figures, with 18 and 10 points respectively. Amir Williams snagged 11 rebounds and chipped in 8 points. Craft had 9 points and 6 assists but turned the ball over 4 times.
In such an intense season in the best conference in college basketball, individual games are bound to get lost among the mayhem, including this one. However, if you watched this one, you won't forget it anytime soon. The hype, the action, the drama; Ohio State v. Michigan State on Jan. 7 delivered in a way that only B1G basketball can.