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Last updated: 02/16/2011 3:07 AM

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Men's Basketball
The Turning Point
By Tony Gerdeman

Each possession more crucial than the next, the Buckeyes had just turned it over for only the fifth time of the night. Spartan point guard Kalin Lucas brought the ball up with 13:50 remaining in the game, his team down just 45-44. Michigan State was looking to regain the lead.

Defensive stopper Aaron Craft was applying the defensive pressure, and Lucas was looking to get rid of the ball. He had Durrell Summers coming around a screen, but he double-clutched his pass, and when he finally released the ball, William Buford was there with a timely right hand.

Buford poked the ball away and outraced Lucas and Summers to the rim for the easy layup. The scoreboard read 47-44 for Ohio State. The Buckeyes had just matched their largest lead of the half at a whopping three points.

Will had the steal,” said Thad Matta, reliving the most crucial possession of the game. “I thought we were able to push up a little bit and get into them and force situations to turn it over a little bit.”

With the lead came the crowd, and with the crowd came the momentumbecause on the very next possession, the Buckeyes did it again. Aaron Craft grabbed one of his four steals for the game and ran down the court intending to score. Yes, he got his shot blocked, but Jon Diebler was right there to grab the rebound and get fouled on the putback. After Diebler made his two free throws, the Buckeyes led by five points. It was their largest lead of the game.

From that point on, the Ohio State aggression was evident everywhere. Of Ohio State's 29 free throws, 17 of them came after William Buford's steal. Of the Buckeyes' nine steals, five of them happened over the game's final 14 minutes.

Six Buckeyes scored in this game, and all six scored during this pivotal stretch. Every player was involved. There were no decoys. Nobody lost interest. It was five guys at a time playing as one unit.

And it all started with Buford's steal. It was the turning point. From a one-point lead to a six-point lead in under two minutes. The Buckeyes turned up the heat in all facets, and they were rewarded because of it.

He was very focused going into the game,” said Matta, referring to Buford.

“He had a good look in his eye. He made a couple shots early and got rolling. I think Will is a terrific player. But the biggest thing tonight was his defense. I thought he did a great job defending and trailing screens. He was very active. He looked pretty strong all the way through.”

But it wasn't just a spurt of a few minutes for the Buckeyes. No, it lasted for the rest of the game. Ohio State never relented, even on obvious turnovers.

Who will ever forget Garrick Sherman's wayward throw from his own baseline into the backcourt? The Spartans simply watched the ball go bounding. Aaron Craft, however, had designs of his own. Instead of simply being satisfied with a 58-53 lead with under six minutes to play, he tore after that loose ball, gathered it up and laid it in, and got fouled for good measure. A free throw later and the Buckeyes were suddenly up by eight points with 5:51 to play.

Why? Because simply watching a turnover wasn't good enough for Craft. That ball was his, and nobody was going to keep it from him.

That was a heck of a play and a sign of someone wanting to win no matter what,” said Diebler of the play. “Aaron doesn’t take plays off and that one led to a big bucket for us.”

It was unquestionably the play of the night, but the game had already turned by that point. The Buckeyes would go on to take a twelve-point lead before eventually winning by ten points, 71-61.

But at no point in the evening did this game ever feel like a ten-point contest. Michigan State had answers all night long. But the answers began to come fewer and farther between following William Buford's steal and layup with 13:37 to play.

Everything turned for the Buckeyes following that steal. The clouds began to part, and the sun began to shine. It may have only counted as two points in the box score, but it was worth so much more.

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