The Buckeyes traveled North on Wednesday night and secured a hard-fought victory in enemy territory over the Wolverines of Michigan. The win extends Ohio State’s undefeated streak to 17 and marks their fourth win in Big Ten play thus far. The buzz in the arena was palpable due to the presence of Brady Hoke, new head coach for the U of M football program, but in the end Ohio State was able to overcome the fan frenzy and silence the Wolverines.
Zack Novak got off to a hot start for Michigan, hitting two quick three’s to give the Wolverines the early lead, but before long Ohio State got things going with balanced scoring. Jon Dielber, William Buford, and Aaron Craft all had early three-pointers, and Jared Sullinger established himself down low by drawing double-teams to contribute to the Buckeye cause. At the 10-minute mark of the first half the game stood tied at 18.
Michigan’s zone defense provided some trouble for Ohio State, perhaps giving the Buckeyes a different look than they’d seen previously, but the guards managed to keep getting into the lane and hitting shots. The bigger problem for Ohio State was on the defensive end, where we were lax in closing out on players, allowing multiple open jumpers around the arc. To make matters worse, Diebler hyperextended his elbow while backpedaling into a player on defense and had to go to the bench.
At the half the game remained tight with a score of 35-34, advantage Buckeyes. Michigan shot 59% in the first, including 7-14 on three-pointer’s, but Ohio State posted an even better clip of 62% on field goals. William Buford led the way with 14, while Jared Sullinger only had one shot. Evan Smotrycz put up 11 points for the Wolverines.
In the second half Diebler returned and quickly hit a three, a very reassuring sight for Buckeye fans. Rather than going with the usual starting five, Thad chose to start Craft in the second, and the lineup of Craft, Diebler, Lighty, Buford, and Sullinger would stay on the court until only seven minutes remained in the game. Craft made the most of his opportunity, playing stellar defense and forcing the Michigan guards into offensive fouls and mistakes. He also dropped home a few more buckets to bring his point total to 8 for the game. By around the 12-minute mark, Ohio State had opened up a 12-point lead and momentum was clearly in our favor.
Sullinger went to the bench at 7:00 after picking up a charge and expressing some frustration with the call. Michigan was able to make a bit of a run to close the gap to six, but Ohio State again pulled away on strong moves to the hoop by both Lighty and Sullinger, who returned after just a short break, with both players hitting clutch free throw’s. Unfortunately, Sullinger was again sent to the bench upon picking up his fourth foul.
As the game approached its conclusion, Zack Novak hit a huge three and Darius Morris found his way to the hoop for a putback layup that closed the margin to only four. Michigan began fouling, and Ohio State’s free throw shooting faltered, as David Lighty repeatedly missed on multiple trips to the line. Jared Sullinger fouled out with around one minute to go, and the Buckeyes’ ability to hold on seemed to be in doubt. Michigan drew within two, but Ohio State’s players found their touch in the waning seconds and iced the game on free throw’s from Buford, Lighty, and Craft.
For the game William Buford led all scorers with 19, continuing his pattern of impressive games against Michigan. Lighty and Sullinger both had 12 for the Buckeyes, and Aaron Craft finished with 10. Craft’s hustle and defensive play was a highlight of the game, and overall this was a good road win for Ohio State in a particularly hostile environment. The team will need to continue working on free throw’s if they are to consistently win close games like this, as this is now two games in a row that we’ve barely hung on to pull out the victory in the end.
Darius Morris paced Michigan with 18 points, and Zack Novak finished with 16 on 4-5 shooting from downtown.
Ohio State’s next game will be on Saturday in Columbus, when the Buckeyes host the Penn State Nittany Lions. After an impressive win over Illinois this week, Penn State should be a significant challenge in this season that will have no easy wins the rest of the way.