Spartans balance beats Buckeyes, 66-55

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 10, 2003

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Maurice Ager hasn't had much of an opportunity to show why some people think he's a special player.

He did Thursday night.

Ager scored a career-high 15 points as No. 25 Michigan State beat Ohio State 66-55 in the Big Ten opener for both schools.

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Despite being a freshman on a talent-laden team, some regard Ager as Michigan State's most athletic and talented player -- when healthy.

A stress fracture in his right foot sidelined him for the first six games, and he missed two games later after fainting during a practice on Christmas.

''It's been a tough season,'' Ager said. ''I've been up and down and down and up more times than I'd like.''

The Detroit native is not afraid to shoot from anywhere at anytime, and he has the ability to create shots off the dribble.

''I don't get scared on a basketball court,'' Ager said.

Chris Hill, Michigan State's leading scorer, was asked if he's one of the people who think Ager is his most-talented teammate.

''Absolutely,'' said Hill, who was held to four points, 12 below his average. ''He's so explosive and he's got such a great scorer's mentality.''

Ager and Alan Anderson, who scored a career-high 18 points, had to be aggressive offensively because the Buckeyes were determined to stop Hill.

''We clearly went into the game to try and take Chris Hill out of the game,'' Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien said. ''We wanted to make someone else beat us.''

Michigan State helped its cause by making its first 26 free throws and missing only one of 30. If Hill didn't miss a free throw with 1:11 left, the Spartans would've set the Big Ten record for the most free throws made without a miss.

''We've been struggling in that area lately so we've been coming into the gym on our own early in the morning and late at night to work on it,'' said Anderson, who made all 14 of his foul shots.

The Spartans (9-4) didn't lead until early in the second half, but they put away the injury-plagued Buckeyes with a 12-3 run after leading by four with 8:46 left.

Ohio State (7-5) has lost all five games against ranked opponents. Brent Darby scored 16 points on 4-of-17 shooting.

The Buckeyes were without Sean Connolly, and his 15.4 scoring average, for the first time this season because of a sprained left ankle.

Terence Dials has been out with a stress fracture in his back.

O'Brien said the starting lineup he used had never practiced together.

''I thought he did a good job with what he had,'' Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

Michigan State took its first lead when Anderson made two free throws early in the second half. Hill didn't score until his 3-pointer put Michigan State ahead 32-29 with 17:36 left.

The Spartans turned two offensive rebounds into a three-point play and a putback, and Ager made a 3-pointer to put them ahead 55-43 with 5:39 left.