There was no doubt from the opening tip to the buzzer at the end of the game who the better team was in this semi-final match-up between rivals Michigan and Ohio State. Not only did the Buckeyes break the back of their biggest rival, they did it playing the best all-around basketball we have seen all season. As we continue to roll into the most important part of March, the Buckeyes improve every single time on the floor.
And for those questioning whether Ohio State’s big man is really a top player in College Basketball, how bout you do me a favor?
Ask John Beilein how he feels Jared Sullinger compares to everyone else he faces. He might throw a fist at your face after being embarrassed 77-55 at Bankers Life Field House in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
The sophomore came out of the blocks possessed, and looking like the number one pick everyone thinks he can be. After a turnaround jumper from the baseline on the far side to start the afternoon’s scoring, he would score 4 out of the next six, block a Trey Burke layup attempt and draw the offensive charge call.
Out of the gates, the Buckeyes controlled the basketball with great shot selection, ball movement and a steady dose of points in the paint.
Meanwhile Michigan started the game going 1/11 from the floor, out of their offensive element, and broken down defensively inside.
Sullinger, who John Beilein has schemed well against this year despite not having a post player with his size, took over the ballgame as we’ve expected from him this year. After a 30 point effort last night, the big man went out there and scored 24 points (three less than both his efforts combined this season against Michigan) while grabbing 6 boards, 2 blocks, 1 steal and 1 assist.
After a small run midway through the first with Craft and Sullinger out, Deshaun Thomas hit a three from the top of the key to give Ohio State control of the game for good midway through the first.
After a timeout, Michigan made the switch to zone trying to contain the paint. Freshman Shannon Scott entered the ballgame and broke the pressure with a beautiful lofted pass to Deshaun Thomas, for two on the kiss off the glass. Thomas continued his onslaught offensively with 22 points on 10/15 from the floor. Over the last handful of games, he has been outstanding offensively, shooting over 50%, while picking his shots wisely and not forcing anything on either side of the floor.
Despite the great offensive performance all-around, the game was made on the defensive side of the floor. The Buckeyes took the Wolverines out of there element. As Thad Matta and company attacked the Wolverines weakness defensively by going to the paint and winding time of the clock with possession basketball, his defense was swarming the perimeter and crashing inside passing lanes and cuts from the basket. After seeing John Beilein’s patented 1-4 offense shred the Buckeyes twice this season, there was no doubt early that Michigan’s play makers were going to have a hard time getting the ball in the basket. Not only did the big man feeding the perimeter players struggle, (whether it was Morgan or Smotrycz) Burke, Novak and Hardaway couldn’t find any space on the floor whatsoever.
Trey Burke struggled throughout the ballgame, as every single shot he put up was highly contested and from long range. He went 0-6 from three point territory and was held to just 5 points. Tim Hardaway had one made just field goal halfway through the second, and began to find some range by the time it was too late. Ohio State forced 17 turnovers, which was one of the major differences in this one. Despite struggling, Michigan got to the line a lot more frequent than any basketball fan is used to seeing. They 16-21 from the line.
Michigan’s will was ripped from them quickly at the start of the second on a perfect 8 pass possession that ended up with William Buford nailing a three from the nearside corner. Aaron Craft would fulling take the wind from under the Wolverine sails with 16 minutes to go when Jared Sullinger kicked out a timely pass to the wing and the sophomore nailed it from long range to give Ohio State their first 20 point lead at 44-24.
The Buckeye offense was locked into cruise control from that point. Deshaun Thomas hit some big shots to keep it separated in the final ten minutes.
Overall, the Buckeyes shot 52% from the floor and 5/14 from three point territory in the blowout victory. Thad Matta literally cleared his bench, sending all scholarship players on the roster in the game at some point. Michigan shot just 1/13 from the three point line and 7/25 overall.
Up next for the Buckeyes is the Michigan State Spartans in the tournament championship tomorrow evening. William Buford will become the first player in conference history to play in four straight Big Ten conference championships.