COLUMBUS, Ohio — Michigan State faded last year at Ohio State after a late first-half run by the Buckeyes.
Cassius Winston, Nick Ward and the other veteran Spartans made sure they didn’t wilt again.
Winston and Ward combined for 46 points, and No. 7 Michigan got a number of key plays from its upperclassmen down the stretch to pull out an 86-77 Big Ten road victory over No. 12 Ohio State on Saturday at Value City Arena.
Ward, who is from nearby Gahanna, shined in his homecoming by making 5 of 7 shots and 11 of 14 free throws for 21 points, adding seven rebounds. Winston scored 25 points, 15 of them coming after halftime, to go with five assists.
Senior Kenny Goins had eight rebounds and six points, including two free throws with 51 seconds left and a steal after he turned the ball over on an out-of-bounds play.
Kyle Ahrens, who had a number of family members in the crowd, scored nine points, including a go-ahead, driving dunk midway through the second half that revived Michigan State’s mojo after falling behind by as many as nine points.
Senior Matt McQuaid added 12 points for the Spartans (13-2, 4-0 Big Ten). They host Purdue on Tuesday at Breslin Center.
CRITCIAL WIN: This was a big moment in Michigan State’s season
The teams played a relatively even, back-and-forth first half for the first 16 minutes. Then things unraveled for the Spartans in much the same fashion as it did at the end of the first half of last year’s 80-64 loss.
Kaleb Wesson and Andrew Wesson each hit a pair of free throws, giving the Buckeyes a one-point lead. Ward missed in close, and Goins took an elbow to the face and was late getting back on defense. Kaleb Wesson rebounded a missed 3-point attempt, and Goins fouled him for a three-point play.
Winston took the entry pass and quickly turned it over near midcourt. Two Buckeyes saved it from going out of bounds, and the ball eventually landed in the hands of Duane Washington Jr. in the left corner. He drained a 3-pointer with Michigan State’s defense discombobulated, capping the 9-0 run and forcing coach Tom Izzo to burn a timeout.
Ward drew his sixth first-half foul on an OSU player and hit two free throws, and Ahrens drained a 3-pointer, but Kaleb Wesson answered Ahrens and sent the Buckeyes into the break leading 43-36.
A year ago, Ohio State scored the final 12 points of the first half and the first seven of the second half to break open what had been a tied game.
Where last year’s game slipped away, the Spartans recovered early in the second half.
After trading points and falling behind by nine on Wesson’s free throw, the Spartans reclaimed the lead briefly with a 9-0 run capped by Aaron Henry’s 3-pointer from the left corner.
Neither team could pull away from each other from there. MSU went up five points on a 6-0 run that included an Ahrens dunk and two free throws from both Winston and Xavier Tillman. That was the largest lead into the final media timeout with 3:17 to play.
The Spartans took the lead for good when Ward hit a pair of free throws, Goins got a layup off a drive and dish from Henry, and Ahrens converted a putback layup as part of a 15-2 finishing burst.
With Joshua Langford out for the second straight game, Michigan State suffered two injuries that in the moment appeared major.
First, Ahrens twisted his left ankle midway through the first half but returned shortly thereafter. His dunk with 10:27 left in the second half gave the Spartans a 60-59 lead.
With 14:14 left in the second half, Ward was running in transition and got the ball stripped and fell to the ground out of bounds. As he landed, Ohio State’s Washington fell onto Ward’s head under the basket. The Michigan State big man laid motionless on the ground briefly before getting up and walking on his own back to the Spartans’ bench during a long break in which referees were checking the clock and the score. Ward would return with 12:40 to play.
Langford, the Spartans' junior guard and co-captain, visited a foot specialist Thursday afternoon and received an encouraging prognosis, according to a team spokesman. Izzo on his pregame radio show said Langford will still need to miss “a little bit of time” for rest and recovery.
Langford's left foot remained in a walking boot with the ankle injury during warmups. The 6-foot-5 junior is averaging 15.0 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 44.3 percent.
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