COLUMBUS, Ohio - Shortly after Michigan State's statement-making 58-48 victory at Ohio State, Spartan captain Draymond Green sent a simple question and request toward teammate Adreian Payne.
"Draymond told A.P., 'Can we play Ohio State every game?'" said MSU head coach Tom Izzo.
Twelve months after registering one of the best games of his freshman season against the Buckeyes, Payne provided a stunning sequel. Payne scored 15 points on 6-of-6 shooting, along with four rebounds, two blocked shots and helped keep a lid on Jared Sullinger on defense.
"This was a big game for Adreian," Izzo said. "He played so well, so hard, so early. Then he had that big left-handed shot when he was falling down, late."
That turn-around jumper from about 10 feet off the glass increased MSU's lead to 50-42 with a little more than 4 minutes to play.
"He was a guy that definitely played his best game," Izzo said.
And the Spartans followed accordingly.
"It was as good as we have played all year," Izzo said.
Michigan State (20-5, 9-3) moves into a first place tie in the Big Ten standings with Ohio State (21-4, 9-3).
Izzo had a great feeling about the game during the pre-game walk-through. He said focus and communication during the walk-through was the best he has seen since Michigan State's lock-up job on No. 1 seed Louisville in the NCAA Tournament Regional Finals in 2009.
"We might have won this game in our walk-through, today," Izzo said. "I think that was one of the best ones we have ever had. Give credit to Draymond Green on that and the job he did."
Green finished with 12 points for No. 11 Michigan State, ending a 39-game home winning streak for No. 3 Ohio State.
Keith Appling had 14 points for Michigan State, which rode its smothering pressure to a 10-point halftime lead and never relented down the stretch.
Sullinger had 17 points and 16 rebounds for Ohio State, but was 5 for 15 from the field. Sullinger also had 10 turnovers, for a dubious triple-double.
MSU walled out Sullinger with smart positioning and unrelenting effort. Sullinger logged 40 minutes for the second time in three games. Meanwhile, Payne and Nix tag-teamed at 20 minutes apiece.
MSU had a bead on Sullinger's dribble rhythm and habits in the post, sending digging guards to bother Sullinger with good timing and effectiveness.
"Our whole defense was to force him off the block, just enough, maybe a yard so we could get our wings to help a little more without giving up jump shots," Izzo said. "We followed the game plan by digging down on Sullinger. He's a load. Once a season maybe the gameplan works and this was one of those times."
Freshman Branden Dawson had a major hand in helping hold Buford to 2-of-12 shooting.
"Give Branden Dawson some credit," Izzo said. "He only had 3 points but he had 8 rebounds. The defense he applied on Buford early set the stage for the game."
The Spartans held the Buckeyes almost 30 points under their average of 76.9 points a game. Ohio State shot just 26 percent from the field (14 for 53).
"I think they got a little tired," Izzo said. "We kept the pressure on, kept running and that's where Appling was real good. He kept pushing it even though he was struggling at times."
Appling was 4-of-10 from the field, including a big 3-pointer from the top of the key in the first half. But he had 7 turnovers and 0 assists against Craft.
"The guy is the best on-the-ball defender that I've ever seen," Izzo said of Craft. "Cleaves and Walton for me were good, and I've seen a lot of guys who were good. But he can just maintain that. So we are dribbling, dribbling, dribbling, thinking we are going to get away from him. You're not getting away from him.
"Keith had his moments when he struggled, but he had moments when he really played well too," Izzo added. "So many guys played well.
"Nix had a big right-handed hook which was a big play at the time," Izzo said. "So was Draymond's power move in there, late."
Green had missed nine straight field goals when Izzo drew up a play during a time out to go straight to him out of a box set. Green posted up Thomas deep and made a quick drop-step move on the right block look easy.
"We said we got away from going inside there for a while," Izzo said. "I was very disappointed in that. But we came back and did it pretty good down the stretch after a couple of times when we were jacking up some threes."
Withstanding The Early Surge
Ahead 35-25 at the half, the Spartans weathered an early Ohio State assault.
A quick field goal by Thomas and two Sullinger free throws pulled the Buckeyes within six, but it was also apparent that Sullinger, in particular, was growing frustrated by the defensive focus from the Spartans. He yelled after being fouled by Payne at the 18:27 mark, with Green then knocking the ball out of his hands.
Later, Sullinger and Green ended up on the floor after tangling on a rebound. But that was the last skirmish between the two frontrunners for Big Ten player of the year.
Green had nine rebounds, two assists and a steal to go with his 12 points. He drew extra attention every time he touched the ball and was held to 5-of-16 shooting, but Ohio State was not able to neutralize him as the Spartans did Sullinger.
Despite the early surge by Ohio State, things still didn't change for the Spartans. Sullinger seldom if ever got an open view of the hoop and Buford and Thomas failed to relieve the pressure by hitting perimeter shots.
Buford had what appeared to be an open lane to the basket but Payne blocked the shot, with Appling scoring quickly at the other end to make it 44-34.
Swapping body blows and occasional buckets, the teams soldiered on. Ohio State pulled to 44-40 on a 15-footer by Sullinger, but Appling hit two free throws and Nix coaxed in a baby hook to push the lead back to 48-40.
Green then drove the lane on Thomas for a layup to stretch the lead to 10.
Ohio State never got closer than eight again.
The teams will meet again in the regular-season finale on March 4 in East Lansing, Mich.
The Buckeyes had won the last three meetings, although Michigan State has now won six of the last eight in Columbus.
There were few surprises in a first half that was both physical and dominated by defense.
Payne made all five of his shots from the field and led all scorers with 11 points. At the other end, the Spartans surrounded Sullinger whenever he got the ball low. As a result, he was just 2 of 6 from the field with some awkward attempts in traffic. He did have nine points and eight rebounds, but also was forced into five turnovers.
With Ohio State ahead 9-4 after the opening 5 minutes, the Spartans stepped up their defensive pressure. The Buckeyes did not have a field goal for more than 9 minutes while Michigan State outscored them 18-7 - all seven points coming at the line.
Coach Tom Izzo had complained a year ago in the teams' only meeting, in Columbus, about a large disparity in fouls against his team. In this game, the Buckeyes finished 18 of 22 at the line to Michigan State's 12 of 16.
Ohio State had not lost at home since falling to Purdue two years ago. The 39-game streak was the second-longest in the nation, and the second-longest in school history behind the 50 in a row in the early 1960s.