CHICAGO – Aaron Craft came on strong in the second half Saturday to finish with 20 points and lead No. 10 Ohio State past No. 8 Michigan State, 61-58, in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament at the United Center.
Craft keyed a seven-point spurt midway through the second half that stretched the lead to eight at 55-47, and the Buckeyes (25-7) came away with the win after the Spartans (25-8) pulled within one. The victory avenged a loss in last year's championship game
It was 57-56 after Derrick Nix converted a three-point play for Michigan State with 1:54 remaining, but Craft hit a free throw. Thomas grabbed a huge rebound off a missed 3 by Shannon Scott to keep the possession going and scored in the paint after a timeout to make it a four-point game, sending the Buckeyes back to the conference final.
They'll go for their third championship in four years Sunday when they meet No. 22 Wisconsin, a 68-56 winner over top-seeded and third-ranked Indiana in the other semifinal.
Craft scored all but two of his points in the second half. He also had nine assists and four steals in the game.
Thomas scored 16 even though he hit just 6 of 19 shots – 2 of 11 3-pointers.
Nix led Michigan State with 17 points and nine rebounds. Keith Appling scored 16 points, but the Spartans came up short in this one.
In a game that was neck-and-neck for about the first 29 minutes, Craft gave Ohio State some breathing room when he scored on a layup and a pair of jumpers to cap a seven-point spurt and make it 55-47 with 7:22 remaining.
Michigan State hung in, and things got real interesting when Nix converted that three-point play with 1:54 left.
The 6-foot-9, 270-pound Nix was a handful right from the start. He dominated down low with 10 points in the first half as Michigan State grabbed a 29-28 lead.
Appling hit two 3-pointers and scored eight in the half.
Thomas, the Big Ten's leading scorer, had 11 points in the first 20 minutes but was just 4 of 13. There weren't many fouls called in the first half, either, with Ohio State attempting just two free throws and Michigan State not even getting to the line in the half.