The Buckeyes were in no danger of missing the NCAA tournament because all seven of their losses came against quality teams, but they also hadn't beaten anyone of note either in the Big Ten or outside it with the exception of home wins over Michigan and Wisconsin.
Credit Ohio State for rising to the challenge this week and addressing the deficiencies in its profile with two marquee home wins. The Buckeyes followed up a rout of Minnesota on Wednesday night by rallying from a nine-point second-half deficit on Sunday to hand fourth-ranked Michigan State a costly 68-60 loss.
Aaron Craft spearheaded the comeback, shredding Michigan State off the dribble to score a career-high 21 points and dish out six assists. The Spartans responded to the onslaught to cut the Buckeyes' lead to 61-59, but Craft seized momentum back by zooming by Keith Appling for a lunging layup with 2:22 left.
If Ohio State (20-7, 10-5) was trending toward a modest No. 6 or 7 seed coming into the week, then the Buckeyes now have realistic hope of moving up a couple seed lines by Selection Sunday. They're now only a game out of second place in the Big Ten with road games at Northwestern and top-ranked Indiana up next before a visit from Illinois in the regular season finale.
In the visiting locker room, the ramifications of Sunday's game were not so rosy.
Michigan State's poor second half cripples the Spartans' hopes of catching Indiana for the Big Ten title. The Hoosiers (24-3, 12-2) have a two-game lead in the loss column on Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin and they hold the tiebreaker over the Spartans by virtue of a two-game regular season sweep.
Even holding on for second place will be a struggle for the Spartans if they don't correct some of the issues that flared up Sunday.
The problems start with Keith Appling, who followed up a nightmarish game against Indiana on Wednesday night with one that very well may have been worse. He went 1 of 6 from the field, scored three points, played shoddy defense and missed opportunities to set up teammates for open shots.
What hurt Michigan State as much as Appling's poor performance was 14 turnovers and 18.2 percent shooting from behind the arc. Errant passes and long rebounds fueled Ohio State's transition attack and enabled the Buckeyes to get enough easy fast-break buckets to overcome 4 of 16 shooting from star forward Deshaun Thomas.
There are still reasons not to go all-in on the Buckeyes just yet though.
They don't have a dependable secondary scorer to complement Thomas. They lack any semblance of an interior game. And their only road wins this season were at the expense of Purdue, Nebraska and Penn State.
Nonetheless, this week's two quality home wins were a step in the right direction and a much-needed boost to their NCAA tournament seeding.
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