Entering Saturday afternoon, the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Michigan State Spartans found themselves in very different situations heading into the stretch run of the season. Ohio State found themselves firmly in an NCAA Tournament position while Michigan State needed a win to bolster a sub-par tournament resume.
The theme for February 14 is love as these two took to the court on Valentine’s Day. This game had a little bit of love in it with the biggest show of affection coming in the dying seconds. Marc Loving returned to the lineup for the Buckeyes after a three-game suspension, providing the team with a nice little boost. However, with the game on the line, Michigan State’s number one valentine would come through when it mattered most.
Denzel Valentine would make a three-pointer with under four seconds to play to give the Spartans a 59-56 win over their rivals in what was the perfect ending to a Valentine’s Day contest inside the Breslin Center.
Both teams would get on the board early, with D’Angelo Russell and Valentine trading buckets in the opening minute. Valentine would later add a three-pointer, and Matt Costello would record a layup to give the Spartans an early five-point lead.
The teams would go on to trade buckets and slim leads in the process. Russell would make his presence felt by making back-to-back three pointers to give the Buckeyes an 18-13 lead. Lourawls Nairn made a three of his own to keep the Spartans within striking distance as the game wore on.
At the 6:58 mark of the opening half, Nairn pulled the Spartans to within two points and kick-started a run for the Spartans. The layup started a mini 9-2 run for Michigan State, giving them a 25-22 lead.
The Buckeyes would cut the deficit down to one, thanks to a pair of free throws from Shannon Scott, but the Spartans would respond with an 8-0 run to close out the half on a high note.
After the first 20 minutes of action, the hometown Spartans found themselves with a 33-24 lead on Valentine’s Day in East Lansing.
To open the second half, the Spartans were held off the scoreboard for nearly three minutes, allowing Ohio State to trim the deficit to four points. Valentine and Costello would respond for Michigan State, and the lead was quickly back up to nine.
The Buckeyes would cut the lead to one with 11:40 to play on an Amir Williams dunk, but they were unable to take a lead of their own. Travis Trice responded with a three-pointer for the Spartans, and Michigan State always seemed to have an answer for whatever the Buckeyes had to offer.
With 4:23 to play, Russell would give the Buckeyes a 51-49 lead, but the man of the hour would respond accordingly for the Spartans. Valentine poured in another three, restoring a slim one point lead for Michigan State.
As the second half wound down, Ohio State was still sticking around. Amir Williams kept the Buckeyes within 1 point with just 1:41 to play, but Trice responded with a layup for the Spartans to stretch the lead back to three. Sam Thompson would tie the game at 56 – all with 38 seconds left to play, and it looked like we were going to need overtime.
Cue Valentine, who would step up in a big way on this night.
Call him Cupid, call him your valentine, call him whatever name fits. With less than four seconds on the clock, Valentine came off a screen, took a pass from Nairn, and calmly made the biggest shot of the season for the Spartans. His three-pointer hit nothing but net and sent The Izzone into a frenzy.
Thanks to Mr. Valentine, all of the Spartan fans in attendance left in love, as Michigan State knocked off rival Ohio State with a 59 – 56 win.
For the visiting Buckeyes, the return of Loving had little effect on the outcome of the game. Loving played only five minutes off the bench, failing to record a point. Scott led the way for all Buckeye players, scoring a team-high 15 points in a losing effort.
Three other Buckeyes (Russell, Thompson, and Jae’Sean Tate) recorded 10 points each.
For the Michigan State Spartans, the one-and-only Denzel Valentine led the way for his team on Valentine’s Day. He scored a game-high 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 5-of-9 from three point range.
Lourawls Nairn, Jr, who was the player to keep an eye on for the Spartans in this one, had his best game as a Spartan on Saturday. Nairn saw 36 minutes of floor time, going 3-of-3 from the floor for 7 points,to go along with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and just 2 turnovers. Nairn is slowly but surely developing into a reliable point guard for the Spartans, and he is gaining the trust of the coaching staff with each passing game.
As a side note, Branden Dawson continues to fill stat sheets in Big Ten play. Dawson recorded 15 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 4 assists in the win.
As is the case on Valentine’s Day, some hearts get broken, and the Ohio State Buckeyes (19-7, 8-5) had theirs broken by their date on Saturday. The Buckeyes will fall out of the top 25 rankings on Monday after the loss but will look to bounce back next Sunday when they travel to Michigan to take on the Wolverines.
The win over the Buckeyes provided a much-needed boost to the tournament resume of the Spartans (17-8, 8-4). Saturday was the biggest win of the season for the Spartans, and the victory allowed them to keep pace in the race for second in the Big Ten standings. The Spartans will look to keep their strong play going on Tuesday when they go on the road and take on the Michigan Wolverines.
As Valentine said in his post-game interview with Dan Dakich, “Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody!”