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What We Learned: Michigan State Spartans 74, Ohio State Buckeyes 66

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The Spartans earn a key home win against the Buckeyes

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State Spartans
Nick Ward scored 15 points and grabbed 5 rebounds in a victory over Ohio State
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans and Ohio State Buckeyes squared off in East Lansing in a critical late season for the Spartans’ NCAA Tournament hopes.

The Spartans came out on fire thanks to the long range shooting of Alvin Ellis III. The senior guard came off the bench and made his first five three pointers and Sparty was rolling up 23-14 with just under 12 minutes to go.

Ohio State battled through foul trouble and clawed back into the game on a 13-2 run and led 27-25 on a JaQuan Lyle three point play with six minutes to go in the first half. Michigan State eventually led at halftime 40-34.

The second half played out much like the first. Michigan State would look like it was going to pull ahead for good, but Ohio State battled back each time. Eventually though, the foul trouble got the best of the Buckeyes as Thad Matta had to ration minutes. The Spartans pulled out a key 74-66 victory.

Let’s take a look at some of the things we learned from the game in the Breslin Center.

What We Learned:

1. Michigan State Gets a Win They Absolutely Needed.

The Spartans (16-10, 8-5) were talked about in terms of being the “quintessential” bubble team on the broadcast. There is some truth to it. Michigan State entered the game as a 10-seed and in the “Last Four Byes” section of Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology. A loss to the 59th ranked Buckeyes (RPI) would have damaged their NCAA hopes.

However, Michigan State held off the pesky Buckeyes (15-12, 5-9) and protected home court advantage. The young Spartans can now turn their attention to picking off some of the big fish in the Big Ten.

The Spartans finish their last five regular season games by going @Purdue, Nebraska, Wisconsin, @Illinois and @Maryland. Three of those five are against the top of the conference, offering plenty of opportunity for a resume that could use some notches.

A 3-2 stretch over those last five would likely be enough for a bid, especially if Michigan State can have some success in the Big Ten Tournament. The precursor to this stretch was tonight, and the Spartans responded well.

Another point to mention is that Michigan State seems to have recovered nicely from the drubbing they took in Ann Arbor. They are 2-0 since that game and are quietly 4-1 over their last five.

2. Cassius Winston is Coming into His Own.

You can tell Cassius Winston is starting to figure it out.

The freshman point guard from Detroit has had his share of ups and downs this season, but has been playing with a level of consistency not seen this season.

Winston came off the bench tonight for 8 points and 9 assists. He was perfect from the foul line and from the field. Over his last five games he has averaged 10 points a game and 5 assists.

One of the most important pieces in a Tom Izzo offensive is a guard that is going to drive, move the ball, score and not make poor decisions. Other than the Michigan game (everyone was bad), Winston has started to show those things for the Spartans.

He could be an important x-factor as Michigan State enters their most critical stretch of basketball this Saturday.

3. The Buckeyes Played Hard, but are a Confusing Mess

Ohio State remains exciting, frustrating, confusing and inconsistent all in the same game.

The Buckeyes played hard against the Spartans and looked like they might steal one. Marc Loving in particular was effective with 22 points. He’s averaged around 18 points per game over his last five games.

JaQuan Lyle also did some nice things with 10 first half points, but was held scoreless in the second half. The Buckeyes also pulled down 11 offensive rebounds.

Still, some of the stories that will be told about this group played out again on Tuesday night. With Loving going well, Ohio State needed another player to step up. It didn’t happen. Jae’Sean Tate and Trevor Thompson were mired in foul trouble all game and collectively scored 13 points on 5-12 shooting. With no other consistent performers, Ohio State withered with turnovers, defensive breakdowns, missed shots and missed opportunities.

It really is uncanny for this group to trade solid key individual performances each game, but never be able to string together consistent together. It cost Ohio State again on Tuesday night.

Overall

Both teams will play next this Saturday. The Spartans travel to West Lafayette to play the No. 16 Boilermakers. Purdue won the first meeting 84-73 in late January. Ohio State will play at home against Nebraska. The Buckeyes defeated the Cornhuskers 66-65 in their other meeting this season.