Here are five quick thoughts on Michigan State's 58-48 win over Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday afternoon, one that pulled the Spartans into a tie with Ohio State for first place in the Big Ten.
But coming into this game, Michigan State wasn't playing with the kind of buzz you typically see from a title contender, and its not hard to figure out why. The Spartans had the reputation for being tough to beat at home but susceptible on the road. That's what happens when you lose at Northwestern, Michigan and Illinois in consecutive road games. As much as anything, this game was a statement. The Spartans toyed with Ohio State on the defensive end of the floor. The Buckeyes execution was far from ideal, but part of the reason they were settling for quick, contested shots was that Michigan State had taken away their will. Being down 10 to the Spartans midway through the second half felt like an insurmountable deficit. That's why the Buckeyes were playing like there were two minutes left, not 12. That says more about this Spartan team than any words I can write.
This season, however, Buford has looked like he is trying to break that mold. His shooting numbers are down across the board, most notably from beyond the arc, where he regressed from 44.2 percent as a junior to 37.9 percent this year. His turnovers are up, which, when taken in conjunction with his shooting, means that his efficiency rating are down. Buford has been slumping a bit during Big Ten play as well, and while it looked like he broke out of it against Purdue on Tuesday, Michigan State brought out the worst in him. The Buckeyes need Buford to figure it out. When he is struggling to score, it puts that much more pressure on Sullinger to be everything to Ohio State offensively. As good as Sullinger is, we saw tonight what happens when he tries to play outside of himself. You want to avoid that problem with Sullinger? Get Buford on track.
But would you believe that on Saturday evening, Payne was the one that outplayed Sullinger? He finished with 15 points on 6-6 shooting from the field to go along with two steals, two blocks and three offensive rebounds. Those 15 points were a career-high. He had a season-high 10 points in just 11 minutes against Ohio State as a freshman. I think someone gets fired up to play an old teammate. This is also coming off a 12-point game in a win over Michigan. With Payne playing this way, it makes MSU that much more dangerous.