Ohio State did its best to forget its only loss.
Michigan State served notice that, as is annually the case, it may just be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason.
William Buford scored 23 points, and Aaron Craft had a hand in two critical plays down the stretch to lead the No. 2 Buckeyes to a 71-61 win over the Spartans on Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio.
It was a hard-fought struggle for Ohio State (25-1, 12-1 Big Ten), playing for the first time since having its unbeaten season ended with a 61-57 loss at Wisconsin on Saturday.
“One loss doesn’t make or break a season,” said freshman center Jared Sullinger, who came in averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds and was limited to 11 and 2. “We just wanted to come out and get the win.”
Jon Diebler and David Lighty each had 12 points. Craft, a freshman reserve point guard, had seven points, four assists, four steals and three rebounds – and a hustle play that was the talk of both head coaches.
Kalin Lucas had 14 points to lead the Spartans (14-11, 6-7), who have lost six of their last eight.
“I wouldn’t count us dead yet,” an emotional coach Tom Izzo said. “This is a pretty good team if we can regroup down the stretch and get three guys to play together instead of just two.”
The Buckeyes finished the game on an 18-10 run to pull away on a night when nothing came easy for either team.
The game turned on two quick defensive stops.
With the Buckeyes hanging on to a 45-44 second-half lead, Buford stepped in front of a bad pass by Lucas and went coast to coast for the basket. The next time down the floor, Craft forced Lucas to give the ball up in the backcourt, leading to two free throws by Diebler. After the Spartans scored a second-chance bucket, Diebler flipped in a line-drive 3 from the top of the key for a 52-46 lead.
Then, with Ohio State up, 58-51, Craft came up with his big effort.
As the ball was going out of bounds under the Michigan State basket, center Garrick Sherman turned and fired it down the court. Craft sped the length of the floor, corralled the ball and hit a twisting reverse layup while being fouled. He completed the three-point play.
Craft also had a steal and was fouled by Draymond Green at the other end with 1:42 left. Green was assessed a technical, and Craft made three of four free throws to swell the lead to 69-59, the biggest of the game.
No. 15 Villanova 60, at Seton Hall 57: Reserve freshman James Bell more than doubled his career high of 10 with 21 points, and the Wildcats (20-6, 8-5 Big East) broke a two-game losing streak with a victory over the Pirates (11-15, 5-9).
Jeremy Hazell had 25 points to lead Seton Hall, but he missed two shots in the final 13 seconds – the second a 3-point attempt to tie with 3 seconds left.
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At No. 10 DePaul 66, Rutgers 62: Keisha Hampton scored 22 points, including five 3-pointers, and the Blue Demons (24-3, 11-1 Big East) held off a late rally by the Scarlet Knights (14-11, 7-5). Sam Quigley added 14 for DePaul, which hit 10 3-pointers.
April Sykes scored 15 points to lead Rutgers, which trailed by 16 at halftime but cut its deficit to two late before DePaul held on.