By Adam Biggers
Michigan State junior center Derrick Nix was justifiably excited Saturday night after his team's 58-48 win over the third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes at Value City Arena in Columbus.
The Spartans' much-improved big man took to Twitter after the win, most likely referencing the victory with a Tweet of "R.I.P to da competition."
With the win, the 12th-ranked Spartans not only halted Ohio State's 39-game home winning streak (lost six of last eight at home to MSU), but they also evened the Big Ten standings, with both teams gridlocked at 9-3 for first place in the conference.
It's looking all the more likely that Spartans-Buckeyes duel March 4 in East Lansing will settle the Big Ten race, which, this season, has been one of the most competitive of any in the nation.
Nix's performance, along with strong individual efforts from senior Draymond Green and sophomore Adreian Payne, showed that the Spartans are once again a gritty, physical team. And those types of teams directed by 17-year veteran coach Tom Izzo are incredibly dangerous—especially in March, which is quickly approaching.
Put the Nix on Sully
Nix finished with a bench-high six points in 19 minutes, with four of those points coming in the second half after nimble moves past Buckeyes star Jared Sullinger, who had 10 turnovers Saturday.
While Sullinger had a team-high 17 points, he shot just 5-for-15 from the field, and the majority of his opportunities in the paint were heavily contested by Nix, Payne and Green.
Double-doubles are great, but Payne stole the show
Green tallied his 14th double-double of the season, further showing that he should be considered one of the top two players—if not the top player—in the Big Ten. However, as impressive as Green was Saturday, Payne stole the show with a seemingly new-found aggressive style.
Spectators have long awaited for Payne's physical side to come out. He's shown it sporadically throughout his two years in East Lansing, but Saturday was proof positive that Payne is capable of being a fiery player.
Averaging about seven points per game this season, Payne scored 11 of his season-high 17 in the first half.
Four of Payne's six rebounds were on the offensive glass, which complemented his season-high four assists and two steals. If the sophomore continues to play like he did Saturday, the Spartans should flourish with the ability to rely on him to attack the basket.
Appling of Izzo's eye
Late in the second half, Ohio State surged with a 6-0 run, cutting Michigan State's once 10-point lead to just 44-40. The Spartans couldn't sink a bucket for close to five minutes, going 0-for-6 in that stretch and committing three turnovers.
But then Izzo called a timeout. He looked to star sophomore guard Keith Appling, who helped the Spartans rattle off an 11-3 run and eventually close the door on the Buckeyes.
Appling's speed and finesse have been key ingredients to the Spartans' success. However, his free-throw shooting has been helpful, too, evidenced by his 5-for-6 showing at the line Saturday. Four of those five makes came as the Spartans rallied, showing that Appling, who scored 14 points in the win, can get to the line—and make his shots—when Izzo needs a run stopped.
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