COLUMBUS — The NCAA Tournament selection committee may have to adjust its lineup to include Ohio State after the Buckeyes’ 63-54 victory over No. 17 Michigan State — which came just five days after they knocked off No. 15 Purdue.
That would be fitting, since it was halftime adjustments that allowed the Buckeyes to rally for the victory in Sunday afternoon’s regular-season finale.
Michigan State shot 52 percent from the field — and 71 percent from behind the 3-point arc — in building a 31-23 lead at the half. But the Spartans, who will face Ohio State again Friday in Indianapolis during the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, withered under the Buckeyes’ aggressive press and slashing offensive attack during the final 10 minutes of the game.
“The second half went great,” OSU senior guard Jamar Butler said. “We made some adjustments during the half and then we began to make some baskets. We stepped up and played well.”
When asked what adjustments the Buckeyes made during the half, Butler simply said, “We play them again in a few days.”
That response brought nearly as much laughter in the postgame interview room as Ohio State coach Thad Matta’s answer to the same question.
“It was the adjustment of me having my foot in their (butts) and getting them to play,” Matta said.
As has been the case for most of the season, Butler was instrumental in the Buckeyes’ second-half surge that allowed his team to erase a 10-point deficit with 12 minutes left in the game. He had a late steal during Ohio State’s closing 15-2 run, a nice pass under the basket to senior forward Othello Hunter for a momentum-building dunk and went 8-for-8 at the free throw line — all of which came during the rally.
“We knew coming into this game that we really needed a win,” Butler said. “The defense toward the end was great. I don’t think they scored a basket in the last five, six minutes.”
Besides the boost in their chances for an NCAA Tournament berth, the victory was special for Butler, Hunter and fellow senior Matt Terwilliger — who earned his first start in 112 games.
“It was a little weird walking off the court and thinking, ‘This is going to be the last time I play here,’” Terwilliger said.
While Hunter transferred from Hillsborough Community College (Fla.) before his junior year, the other two seniors have played for the last four years at Ohio State and became the first players to win 100 games at the school.
“It was really important for us underclassmen to step up today,” said sophomore guard David Lighty, who finished with 12 points and a team-high five rebounds. “We wanted to go out there and get that 100th win for the seniors.”
Still, that feat isn’t nearly as important as the Buckeyes earning their third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. The seniors have been there the last two seasons and only missed out during their freshman year because Ohio State banned itself from participating in the postseason after infractions that occurred under former coach Jim O’Brien were made public.
“Do I think Ohio State belongs in the NCAA Tournament? Hands down — yes,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “They beat two ranked teams down the stretch and played a really tough non-conference schedule.
“I would have them in, but it’s not up to me.”
But Izzo’s Spartans could play a big part in Ohio State’s chances. Another win over Michigan State during the conference tournament could be the final victory that pushes the Buckeyes into the field.
Ohio State knows that the game is important, and it knows Michigan State will be looking for revenge after Sunday’s defeat.
“They beat us the first time (66-60 at MSU) and we beat them this time,” Butler said. “It’s kind of a grudge match. Whoever shows up ready to play, that’s who’s going to win the game.”
Matta is 4-0 in regular-season finales at Ohio State — and they’ve all been special. The Buckeyes handed No. 1 Illinois its first loss of the season during his first year, beat Purdue to claim the Big Ten title in 2006 and downed Wisconsin last season to defend their conference championship.
• Ohio State will be the No. 5 seed and Michigan State will be the No. 4 seed when the teams meet at 2:30 p.m. Friday at the Conseco Fieldhouse.
• Michigan State committed a season-high 21 turnovers in the loss, including four shot-clock violations. “Twenty-one turnovers against a team that plays zone and presses — that’s ridiculous,” Izzo said.
• Former Ohio State standout and current Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez took in the game from a courtside seat.
• Michigan State leads the overall series against the Buckeyes 60-50, but the Spartans are just 21-34 when facing Ohio State in Columbus.
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.