EAST LANSING, MICH., JAN. 31 -- Michigan State isn't quite ready to abdicate the Big Ten throne.

The defending champion Spartans handed No. 3 Ohio State its first loss of the season tonight, 75-61, and worked their way back into the conference title picture.

"This is a great win for us," Michigan State Coach Jud Heathcote said. "I don't know if we were inspired, or we caught Ohio State on a bad night, but this puts us right into a contending position. Now it is up to the players."

Michigan State (13-6, 6-3) was coming off a 34-point loss to second-place Indiana. The Buckeyes (17-1, 7-1) were coming off consecutive road victories and were one of the last two unbeaten Division I teams along with top-ranked UNLV.

Steve Smith scored 26 points, including the 2,000th of his career, for the Spartans and Mark Montgomery added a career-high 17.

Michigan State led by 39-36 at halftime, and quickly expanded that lead to eight points on a dunk by Dwayne Stephens and a three-pointer by Montgomery.

"Hitting that first shot really boosted my confidence," Montgomery said. "The guys told me to keep shooting, and I kept getting open shots."

He connected on six of nine from the floor, including two of four from three-point range. He also had a game-high seven assists.

Ohio State trailed by 58-52 with 9:29 to play and scored just one point in the next 5:55, allowing the Spartans to put the game away.

"You have to give Michigan State all the credit for our shooting," Buckeyes Coach Randy Ayers said.

"They took away our penetration, and they did a good job of controlling the tempo. We never got our offense into sync, especially down the stretch."

Chris Jent's three-point play pulled the Buckeyes to 64-58 with 2:09 to play, but Ohio State got no closer, as the Spartans made seven free throws in the final 68 seconds, four by Smith.

Overall Michigan State hit 18 of 29 from the free throw line, while Ohio State was 14 of 21.

Smith moved into second place on Michigan State's all-time scoring list, passing Greg Kelser. He has 2,020 points, 125 short of Scott Skiles' school record. He was eight for 18 from the floor and nine for nine on free throws.

"I know it is there, but I'm trying not to think about it," Smith said of the scoring milestone. "I'm trying to just concentrate on winning the games. After the season, I'll look back at it, and be happy."

Mark Baker led Ohio State with 14 points and Jim Jackson added 12.

The Buckeyes used a seven-point run to take a 36-32 lead in the last minute of the half. With 58 seconds left, Parish Hickman made a layup and was fouled. Hickman missed the free throw, but Ayers was assessed a technical foul for arguing the call, and Smith hit both foul shots to tie the score.

Michigan State retained possession and Kris Weshinskey hit a three-pointer with 21 seconds remaining to give the Spartans the three-point halftime lead.

"We really like those seven-point plays," Heathcote said. "That really gave us a lift going into the half, and it showed us that we could play with them."

Ayers, who is in his second season as Buckeyes coach, agreed that was a critical series,

"My technical was the biggest play of the game," he said. "It let them score the last seven points of the half, and then they scored the first five of the second half, and we never recovered."