Keith Appling

Michigan State blows double-digit lead, prevails in overtime over Ohio State


Michigan State and Ohio State sure know how to make us forget about college football.

The two clashed in an epic overtime Big Ten battle, as the No. 5 Michigan State blew a double-digit second half lead, but left the Breslin Center with a 72-68 overtime win over No. 3 Ohio State on Tuesday night to hand the Buckeyes their first loss of the season.

Sam Thompson hit two free throws, followed by one from Adreian Payne to make it 60-59 Ohio State to begin overtime. Then it began to rain threes. Kenny Kaminski and Payne sandwiched a Marc Loving free throw with two Michigan State 3-pointers to give Sparty a 65-61 lead. Again, Ohio State wasn’t going anywhere with an Aaron Craft layup and a Thompson 3-pointer from the wing, tying the score at 66-all.

Keith Appling responded with a pull-up three on the next possession with under 30 seconds to play, giving Michigan State a 69-66 lead, which the Spartans kept for good.

Ohio State fell behind by as many as 17 in the second half, but with less than 10 minutes to go, Thad Matta extended his defense, which forced problems for the Michigan State offense. As the Spartans made mistakes and missed shots — one field goal in the final eight minutes — the Buckeyes went on a 20-3 run to close out regulation and had a chance to win it at the buzzer with a transition layup after Shannon Scott picked off a pass.

The Spartans second half letdown that almost caused them the game.That near collapse had something to do with the opponent. Ohio State doesn’t give up. Seriously. We saw that in the win against Notre Dame and we saw that fight again on Tuesday night. How many guys will make plays like Aaron Craft did toward the end the game?

It was a disappointing way to end regulation, but Tuesday night the Spartans showed glimpses — like in other games — of what they can be when they are healthy. Gary Harris went off on Indiana, looking like the player we’ve waited to see, and added 13 more points on Tuesday night. Payne (18 points, six rebounds) fought through a foot injury while Appling (20 points, seven assists, six rebounds) dealt cramping. Yet both drilled huge 3-pointers in overtime. Not to mention Tom Izzo was without Travis Trice.

We still have a long way to go until March, which is the next time these two teams meet. The Spartans and Buckeyes end conference play on March 9 in Columbus

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.