East Lansing — It didn’t come easy, but at a point in the season where every victory is critical for a Michigan State team still scrambling to build its NCAA Tournament resume, it got exactly what it needed on Tuesday night at the Breslin Center.
Senior Alvin Ellis scored 18 points to lead Michigan State to the 74-66 victory over Ohio State, the fourth win in the last five games for the Spartans, who avenged a loss at Ohio State in mid-January.
Miles Bridges added 17 points and 11 rebounds for Michigan State (16-10, 8-5 Big Ten) while Nick Ward added 15 points.
“I just have to accept that we are a grinder team,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Every time we have a big lead — nine points, 12 points — we just find a way to make us uncomfortable. But give us credit, we grinded it out. So, I guess we aren’t going to be pretty, but pretty doesn’t get you any wins anyway.”
What did get Michigan State this win was the play early of Ellis. He made five straight 3-pointers at one point in the first half, turning a one-point deficit into a nine-point lead at 21-12 with 12 minutes to play in the half.
Ellis, who scored a career-high 20 earlier this season and had the winning free throws at Minnesota, finished 6-for-9 from 3-point range.
“After the first one went in, I was just going to keep shooting it until I missed,” Ellis said. “My teammates did a great job of finding me in transition. It’s really fun. When things are falling like that, you can’t do anything but have fun out there. Everybody is all hyped up and the crowd gets into it. There’s nothing like it.”
But as Izzo pointed out, putting the Buckeyes away was going to be no simple task.
After Ellis gave the Spartans a nine-point lead, Ohio State had a 10-0 run that was capped by a 3-pointer from Kam Williams with 7:21 left in the first half. The Buckeyes took their largest lead at 27-25 on a three-point play from JaQuan Lyle but Cassius Winston scored four straight followed by five in a row from Ward as Michigan State regained the lead and went up 34-29 with four minutes to play in the half. Bridges closed things out with a mid-range jumper to give the Spartans a 40-34 lead heading into halftime.
Michigan State jumped out quickly in the second half, scoring the first six points to take a 46-34 lead, its biggest of the game. However, just as in the first half, Ohio State came storming back with a 12-1 run that trimmed the Spartans’ advantage to just one at 47-46 with 13:45 to play.
After a Ward hook and Ellis’ sixth 3-pointer of the game, the Spartans were up six only to see the Buckeyes cut it back to a one-point lead minutes later. The runs kept coming, though, as Michigan State scored 10 in a row and went up 64-53 on a dunk from Bridges followed by a 3-pointer.
Ohio State chipped away at the lead but Ward answered with a pair of free throws and Kyle Ahrens hit a 3-pointere from the corner with 3:31 to play to put the Spartans ahead 69-57. Ohio State answered with five straight but a putback dunk from Joshua Langford was the final difference-maker.
“We’re just growing as a team,” Bridges said. “We’re getting better defensively, offensively, rebounding, and we’re learning how to win games.”
Marc Loving scored 22 to lead Ohio State (15-12, 5-9) while Lyle, who torched Michigan State for 22 in the first meeting, scored 10.
“We couldn’t get over the hump,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “We couldn’t make the plays. Obviously at the start, Michigan State slash Ellis got off to, he was on fire. The foul trouble got us, especially in the first half. But we just couldn’t make the plays. We got the shots we wanted, they wouldn’t go down for us. I give them credit. They made some big-time plays.”
Michigan State hits the road to take on Purdue on Saturday, a game that could provide a signature victory down the stretch.
To do that, it will take another approach like the one on Tuesday.
“I think the guys knew that we had a grind-it-out game,” Izzo said. “The locker room, they felt good about that. That’s how it’s going to be for us. We’re not gorgeous, we’re just valentines. Nobody probably got any cards on our team. We’re not the darlings of Valentine’s Day, we’re just the grinders.”