COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—Ohio State just had too big of a head start.
Greg Oden scored 19 points including several big second-half free throws and the fifth-ranked Buckeyes nearly blew a 20-point halftime lead before holding off Michigan State 66-64 on Saturday night.
“That was a tale of two halves,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “The first half we played some great basketball. But Michigan State didn’t go away.”
Maurice Joseph’s 3-pointer with just over a second left bounced off the rim, preserving the win for the Buckeyes (18-3, 6-1 Big Ten), who won their fifth straight overall and 21st in a row at home.
They also ended Michigan State’s four-game winning streak in Columbus.
Drew Neitzel, the smallest guy on the floor, almost led the Spartans (17-5, 4-3) to a dramatic comeback win. He scored 24 of his 29 points in the second half to draw Michigan State, which had a four-game winning streak end, to within a point with less than a minute left.
“It was one (performance) that will go down” in history, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “He kept making shot after shot. He made some big plays. He’s a big-time player.”
Neitzel continually hit clutch shots, regardless of who was guarding him.
“It was tough,” said Jamar Butler, one of the players assigned to try to stop him. “He was coming off a lot of screens. We did the best we could. We got the win, and that’s all that matters.”
Oden, shooting free throws left handed while he recuperates from surgery to repair ligament damage in his right wrist, hit a foul shot with 15.3 seconds left to put Ohio State ahead 66-64. Oden was 8-of-10 at the line in the second half when the Buckeyes were starving for offense.
Oden never had a field goal after the 13:20 mark of the first half. He finished 11-of-14 at the line and also had six rebounds and three blocked shots.
“They really just walled (things) up,” he said of the Spartans’ defense in the second half. “I was getting good looks on hook shots, but I just wasn’t knocking them down.”
Raymar Morgan, a runner-up for Mr. Basketball as an Ohio high school senior last year, scored 14 points for the Spartans.
Butler had 12 points and six assists for the Buckeyes, with Daequan Cook adding 11 points—all in the first half when Ohio State took a 43-23 lead.
“I was ticked off at halftime,” Izzo said. “That was a joke. A lot of those shots they had were without a hand in their face. That’s just not the way we defend.”
Izzo figured if the Spartans could start to hit some shots, the Buckeyes would cool off. He was right on both points.
The Spartans ran off the first seven points of the second half with four players scoring, serving notice that they wouldn’t go down quietly.
Neitzel, who missed six of his seven shots from the field in the opening half, led the Spartans’ surge. He scored 16 of their 18 points over a 6-minute span while the Buckeyes floundered at the offensive end.
“What Neitzel was able to do, I’m not sure I’ve seen in my college career,” Matta said. “I’m not sure I’ve seen a guy catch fire like that. It seemed like everything he threw up there went in.”
The Buckeyes, who shot 63 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes, suddenly couldn’t hit anything. They shot 24 percent in the second half.
Neitzel was fouled while shooting a 3 with 1:41 left with Michigan State down by three. He hit the first two but missed the third, with Ohio State left holding a thin 65-64 lead.
After the teams traded possessions, Neitzel, who finished 9 of 20 from the field and 4 of 12 on 3-pointers, missed a shot behind the arc with 20 seconds remaining. The ball bounced loose, with players from both teams scrambling for a piece of it. The officials ruled that Oden was fouled in the scrum.
“I was not satisfied with some of those (calls),” Izzo said, “but that’s the way it goes.”
With a sellout crowd of 18,965—clad in white on “white-out night” at Value City Arena—standing, the Spartans hurried down. The Buckeyes shadowed Neitzel, who fed Joseph, but his last shot was off the mark.
“The better team won tonight,” Izzo said. “They’ve got talent—they’ve go so many weapons and so many shooters. But I think Michigan State showed up.”