GAME NOTES: The 2013-14 regular season comes to a close for Big Ten Conference rivals Michigan State and Ohio State on Sunday afternoon, as the two teams square off at Value City Arena.
Michigan State comes in as the 22nd-ranked team in the country, the Spartans sporting an impressive 23-7 overall record and a 12-5 league ledger. The team held down the No. 1 ranking a couple of months ago, and recently picked up an 86-76 win over a ranked Iowa squad at home on Thursday night. Prior to that, MSU had suffered setbacks in two straight and had alternated wins and losses in its previous eight. The Spartans have earned a bye in the first round of the upcoming Big Ten Tournament.
Ohio State had also been considered one of the top teams in the country earlier in the campaign, but Big Ten play has really taken a toll on the Buckeyes, as they enter this finale at 22-8 overall, with all eight setbacks coming against league foes. OSU limps in having lost two straight, the most recent of which being a 72-64 decision at Indiana last Sunday, the skid coming on the heels of a three-game win streak. With a victory here, the Buckeyes will improve to 17-3 at home this season.
Michigan State claimed a 72-68 win in overtime in the first meeting between these two earlier this season in East Lansing, upping its advantage in the all-time series to 62-54.
The Spartans boast three of the top-16 scorers in the Big Ten, including Gary Harris who is right at the top with his 17.7 ppg. Adreian Payne adds 15.8 ppg to go with 7.5 rpg, and Keith Appling contributes 13.2 ppg while combining with Denzel Valentine to dish out 248 assists. As a collective unit, Michigan State is putting up 76.5 ppg thanks to efficient shooting percentages of .473 overall and .391 from 3-point range. The team's defensive effort yields 65.7 ppg, with foes shooting just 40 percent from the floor while falling into the red in both rebounding (-4.7) and turnover (-1.2) differential.
Travis Trice made the most of his time coming off the bench, as he drained three treys and went a perfect 6-of-6 at the foul line to score 17 points in Michigan State's recent win over Iowa. Payne added 14 points, Valentine had 13 and Harris and Appling 12 apiece for the Spartans, who nailed 10 3-pointers on the night, shooting better than 58 percent from both the field and beyond the arc. They also went 20-of-26 at the charity stripe. About the only negative in the game for MSU was the fact that it committed 16 turnovers, off which the Hawkeyes scored 25 points.
Even with their well-documented struggles in conference play, the Buckeyes are one of the top defensive teams in the country, as they permit a mere 58.8 ppg to rank seventh. Opponents are connecting on only 40.1 percent of their total shots, with 3-pointers falling at a league-low 27.7 percent clip. When attacking the backet, it is guys like LaQuinton Ross (14.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (11.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) who shine the brightest, while Aaron Craft (9.4 ppg, 4.5 apg, 2.5 spg) does his best to contribute in all facets of the game. Craft, a senior, is OSU's all-time leader in assists and steals, and he actually owns the Big Ten record for career thefts.
Ross and Smith, Jr. each hit for 19 points, but those efforts went for naught as Ohio State dropped an eight-point decision at Indiana last weekend. The Buckeyes missed all 11 of their 3-point attempts in the game, while the Hoosiers went 7-of-18. OSU dominated the interior, outscoring its hosts in the paint (48-28), but the IU bench accounted for 19 points, while OSU's logged only nine.
Both teams are hoping to make some major noise in the postseason, and posting a win here would be a great momentum builder. Expect the Spartans to end the campaign on a high note by pulling out a hard-fought win in hostile territory.
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