The Buckeyes and Wolverines butted heads exactly one year to the day after the Evan Turner dagger in last year’s Big Ten Tournament. Michigan did a great job making a comeback from down 18, falling 68-61 to the #1 seeded Buckeyes. Sullinger recorded another double double with 14 points and 13 rebounds, while Buford led the Buckeyes with 16 points. With the win, the Buckeyes improved to 7-0 in the Big Ten Semifinals all time, and 31-2 for the season.
Diebler started hot for the Buckeyes, but not in his usual way. Diebler made his mark scoring the first two baskets for the Buckeyes inside the three point arc, including a nice driving layup. Not surprisingly, a lot of that was caused by Michigan playing tight, aggressive defense on Sullinger in the paint.
Early on, Sullinger seemed to rush his shots and not play with his usual calm and collected demeanor. It was clear that Michigan’s defensive concept was to use Morgan to force Sullinger out of his comfort zone. If that didn’t work, they switched to a quick double team when Sullinger got the ball in the low paint. The strategy seemed to frustrate Sullinger early.
A scary factor that came out early in the game, particularly heading into the NCAA Tournament, was William Buford’s shooting confidence. It simply wasn’t there, particularly when he caught a pass wide open in the corner but second guessed his shot and pulled it down allowing a defender to cover him in time. He ended up taking the shot anyway, but he missed it, certainly not helping that confidence.
As the game progressed, the Buckeyes were forced to put Jordan Sibert into the game, due to the foul situation of Aaron Craft and David Lighty. Both players had two fouls in a close battle, exactly the time that Matta would not have chosen for Sibert to come into a game. While Sibert did seem a little shaky in his defensive assignments, he did what he had to and played hard.
The game remained tight the whole way through the first half. Both teams were playing a fast, up-tempo game making the game feel frantic and barely in control. The Buckeyes did a very good job of playing at the frenetic pace, making good, smart plays to maintain control of the game.
The Buckeyes went into the half up 4, 31-27, after just missing a 3/4′s court Diebler shot at the buzzer. The Bucks shot better in the first half than they did against Northwestern, hitting 12-26 (46.2%) from the floor and 2-7 (28.6%) from three. Michigan did not shoot quite as well, hitting only 10-27 (37.0%) and 4-11 (36.4%) respectively.
Sullinger’s 8 rebounds led all players, and helped the Buckeyes double up Michigan’s rebound numbers 18-9. Surprisingly, though, OSU turned the ball over 6 times, one of their worst turnover halfs in a game. Diebler led all scorers with 12, the only player to make it to double figures in the first half.
Sadly, David Lighty started out the second half by picking up his third foul in the first minute. He ended up on the bench, replaced by Deshaun Thomas who despite being a very good defender in his own right, is certainly no Lighty. Thomas did, however, make his presence known on the offensive end with a big three pointer to start off the second half scoring.
Buford’s confidence seemed to start to return in the second half. He made a quick dribble move into a 15 footer that went down with no trouble. It was exactly the kind of Buford shot we had been missing during this tournament. Even better was that William managed to repeat the feat, making it more of a certainty that his shot was back.
The Buckeyes were trying to build a significant lead on the Wolverines. With a 10 point advantage, Darius Morris began to single-handedly close the gap, eventually getting it down to five. Michigan was looking incredibly hot with their shooting, and it was not certain that OSU was going to be able to keep them down. Diebler had other ideas, however, as he caught a pass in the corner from Craft in transition for three.
Michigan wasn’t to be denied, however. The Wolverines went on a quick run to close the gap from 8 down to 2 over only a couple of minutes. The sudden surge forced Thad Matta to call a timeout and regroup his troops who had seemed to lose their focus at the midway point of the second half.
David Lighty had other ideas. After Sullinger missed his second of two free throws, Lighty jumped in and climbed the ladder for the rebound. He then quickly reversed direction to get the layup through the Michigan bigs. The play capped off a big change in momentum that resulted in the Buckeyes sitting ahead by seven.
Ohio State exploded on both sides of the court. The Buckeyes found great effort on the defensive effort that continued to lead to fast break points. Michigan quickly lost it’s composure, seemingly unable to stick to their offensive gameplan with the Bucks surging to a 16-0 run. It was not helped by the fact that Lauderdale, who had come in to help rest Sullinger, was blocking shots and outrebounding the Wolverines.
Once the Buckeyes had opened up a huge lead, it was just a matter of closing out the game. Unfortunately, Michigan began to close the gap over the last minute, primarily due to good defensive effort forcing a few extra turnovers. The Buckeyes were clearly surprised by change in strategy, definitely not expecting a team down 18 to try to make a comeback. The Bucks finally put it back together enough to secure the win in the final seconds.
The Buckeyes shot an improved – from the previous game – 25-54 (46.3%) from the floor and 5-14 (35.7%) from three. Not the greatest shooting night this season, but a solid game all-around. Michigan responded with 22-59 (37.3%) and 9-29 (31.0%) respectively. Not quite enough to get the job done. The Buckeyes also out-rebounded the Wolverines 34-27 for the game.
Ohio State will next face the winner of the Michigan State vs. Penn State semifinal game to be played later this afternoon. That game will be played at 3:30 PM Eastern Time on Sunday. You’ll be able to see that game on CBS.