MSU's Kyle Ahrens, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston on win over OSU The Detroit News
Columbus, Ohio — There was more than one homecoming Saturday afternoon at Value City Arena.
With plenty of attention on Michigan State’s Nick Ward, who grew up just minutes from Ohio State’s campus in Gahanna, Ohio, it was a chance at redemption as the Spartans junior scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds in No. 8 Michigan State’s 86-77 victory over No. 14 Ohio State.
For junior Kyle Ahrens, it was just as special.
A native of Versailles, about 100 miles west of Columbus, Ahrens had the added benefit of seeing his brother, Justin, on the other bench. Justin Ahrens is a freshman for the Buckeyes, and with just less than 30 seconds left in the game, the brothers were on the court at the same time.
“So many emotions going through my head when facing my little brother,” Ahrens said. “All the hours you put in together and always being on the same team then all of a sudden you’re on opposing teams just like that. So, I’m happy for him and where he’s at. They have such a great program at Ohio State.”
There were plenty of folks on hand to cheer on the brothers, as well. Mom and dad sat with the Ohio State parents but wore both Spartans and Buckeyes gear while all around the arena there were shirts with the name “Ahrens” on the back as Kyle Ahrens said about 400 people from his hometown.
Two of the biggest cheers from the Ahrens fans came in the second half when Kyle Ahrens, starting for the second straight game in place of the injured Joshua Langford, faked a pass and drove the lane for a dunk to put Michigan State up by one with just more than 10 minutes to play.
The next one came with just less than three minutes to play when Ahrens grabbed an offense rebound and put the ball back in to give the Spartans a 77-72 lead. From there, MSU put the game away at the free-throw line.
“I was gonna give it my all because it was winning time at the end of the game,” Ahrens said. “Especially being here in front of all the fans that came from my hometown. It was special to me.”
The big plays later are starting to become commonplace for Ahrens. He started four games earlier this season when Matt McQuaid was out with an injury and he capitalized by scoring the final seven points in a win at Florida.
On Saturday, his critical plays late came with the added bonus of drawing plenty of cheers in an opposing arena.
“It was a big game for him, too,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Not only is he in Ohio but he’s got his bother on the other team. His poor parents. They had Buckeye sweaters and Spartan underwear and somebody else’s hat. It was a hell of a deal, a tough deal for them. It meant a lot for him and I just love the way our guys rallied around those two guys.”
MSU's Tom Izzo talks about the win over Ohio State The Detroit News
Almost lost in Michigan State’s huge win thanks to the play of Ward and guard Cassius Winston was the continued maturation of freshman Aaron Henry.
The one of five first-year players that has seen regular playing time, Henry was at his best in the second half on Saturday, beginning with his 3-pointer that capped a 9-0 run and gave Michigan State a 51-50 lead just six minutes into the second half.
But it was his play in crunch-time that was most impressive. First, Henry had a nice dish to Kenny Goins for a layup that gave the Spartans a 75-72 lead with 3:47 to play. He followed that with a defensive rebound on the next defensive possession then buried two free throws with 1:07 left in the game to give Michigan State a 79-72 lead.
“This was huge for me,” Henry said. “I wanted to show him what I can do and I’m happy he put his trust in me and obviously I put my trust in him coming here. I’m glad I got to play.”
Michigan State’s nonconference schedule that included trips to Louisville and Florida were critical in helping Henry handle the atmosphere at Value City Arena.
“I feel like that’s what those nonconference games are for,” Henry said. “Not only are they games within themselves, but they prepare us for these Big Ten games on the road.”
Langford in limbo
Things aren’t much clearer when it comes to Langford’s status other than to say Izzo feels better about things now than he did earlier in the week.
Langford sat out the second half vs. Northern Illinois then missed Wednesday’s game against Northwestern after an MRI on his left ankle offered few answers. He saw a specialist on Thursday and missed Saturday’s game.
“The only update I have is the future is a lot brighter than it was,” Izzo said. “It’s not a stress fracture because it was not in that area. There didn’t seem to be any break or anything but it’s one of those things where it could be a very long time or not. I think did something to him and we’ll see in next two weeks if they have a clear idea of whether he responds to a little treatment or he doesn’t. I feel a little more comfortable he’s gonna respond to that treatment, but I feel he’ll miss a little time yet.”