When they last met the Spartans on the court, No. 18 Ohio State was surging toward a top spot in the Big Ten Conference. Tonight, in Columbus, the tables have turned somewhat slightly.
The Buckeyes are no longer in a battle for the No. 1-ranking this time around, but that doesn't mean they aren't out for blood. In their last meeting on Jan. 19, No. 4 Michigan State took down OSU in East Lansing by a score of 59-56.
Since then, things haven't quite been the same for the Buckeyes; but two things that do remain similar: Michigan State's Adreian Payne is still churning out top offensive numbers and Buckeyes' forward Deshaun Thomas still leads the Big Ten in points scored per game (20.1).
If you're asking Payne, the Spartans' most-recent 72-68 loss to No. 1 Indiana hurt... badly. Not just because he and his teammates watched their opportunity to take down the No. 1 team in the country slip away in the final moments, but also because it was Payne himself who let up a crucial three-point play to the Hoosiers' Christian Watford that gave Indiana the edge.
"It hurt a lot," Payne said concerning the crushing defeat to Indiana. "Every time I watch the film, I get a little upset. ... Because Watford made (two late) drives and big buckets. And that was on me."
Meanwhile, OSU's Thomas scored 28 points in the last match up with Michigan State--half of the Buckeyes' total effort--and looks to repeat that tonight at home in Columbus when Michigan State heads into town. Payne, determined not to be frazzled by the tough loss to IU, knows the duty of guarding Thomas will fall largely upon him.
"I mean, it was my first time defending a perimeter guy and I just tried to do my best," Payne said. "(Thomas) made some tough shots, leaning back."
Thomas is indeed a scoring machine, and will make every effort to beef up his average tonight against visiting MSU, but in the end, Spartans head coach Tom Izzo just wants a win--no matter how good Thomas is sinking baskets throughout the night.
"If (Thomas) can get 40 and we can win, I'm cool with that," a calm Izzo told reporters.
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