Five Things We Learned from Another Win over Michigan
By Brandon Castel
INDIANAPOLIS — Saturday’s 68-61 win over Michigan may have been just what the doctor ordered for Ohio State.
The game had a little bit of everything for the Buckeyes, who know more about their team today than they did 24 hours ago. They know they can put up big numbers in a hurry, and they knew they can cough up big leads just as quickly at the end of games if they play careless basketball.
Here’s a look at five other important things we learned about the Buckeyes from their fifth-straight win over Michigan.
1.The Wolverines weren’t as close as they thought. All the talk in the Michigan locker room after their win over Illinois Friday was how badly they wanted another shot at Ohio State. The Wolverines felt like they had let two games slip away during the regular season, and they wanted a chance to prove they were on the same level as the Buckeyes. Stu Douglass even went as far as to say that Michigan might have their number.
We found out Saturday that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Wolverines lost by only seven points, but they weren’t any closer to a victory than they were when they got beat in Columbus. They had no answer for Jared Sullinger in the paint, and couldn’t take advantage of the fact Ohio State’s two best defenders—David Lighty and Aaron Craft—were in foul trouble for most of the first half. They fell behind by 18 points in the second half, and only made it look closer because of turnovers and missed free throws over the final five minutes. To their credit, Michigan didn’t quit when the Buckeyes thought they would.
2. This Ohio State team hates to lose. Much more important than what we learned about Michigan was what we learned about this Ohio State team. These guys hate to lose. It’s that simple. It would have been easy for them to coast through Saturday’s game, make it look good and then head home for some extra rest on Sunday. Not this group. Even with the No. 1 overall seed probably locked up heading into their semifinal against Michigan, the Buckeyes showed up and gave another great effort on Saturday. There was no letdown from this group, and wouldn’t be smart to expect one tomorrow in the title game against Penn State. This group is hungry, as Jon Diebler said after the game, they don’t look ahead past anyone. Expert their focus to be on the Nittany Lions and winning another Big Ten Tournament title.
3. The bench is alive. All year the talk has been about Thad Matta’s use of his of his bench and if it would come back to bite the Buckeyes come tournament time. Well, it was put to the test Saturday. It took less than four minutes for Aaron Craft to pick up his second foul in the first half, and David Lighty wasn’t far behind him. All of a sudden, the Buckeyes had Deshaun Thomas and Jordan Sibert on the floor at the same time. It could have been a disaster. Most were probably expecting it considering how little Thomas, and especially Sibert have played this year.
But the Buckeyes didn’t miss a beat. Thomas was making plays at both ends of the court and even Sibert was showing up big in his first real action in weeks. It only counted for two points, but his steal and dunk at the other end was definite momentum shifter in the first half.
“I think we learned we have players who can do some things we haven’t really seen all year,” Craft told the-Ozone after the game.
“That’s comforting anytime you can have something like that with Jordan and Deshaun going in and not just playing passive, but playing their game and playing within Ohio State basketball.”
4. Buford plays better with a chip. One guy who looked passive in the first half was William Buford. After going 3-for-14 from the floor against Northwestern, Buford was just 2-of-5 from the field in the first half against Michigan. He had six points in 20 minutes and just never looked comfortable the way he did so often during the regular season.
It turns out, all that was missing was little fire. After Sullinger got knocked to the floor by Michigan big man Jordan Morgan midway through the second half, Buford came to his teammate’s aid. Buford got in the face of Morgan which nearly led to a scuffle on the court. Cooler heads prevailed, but Buford never cooled off. With a chip on his shoulder and that look in his eye, Buford sank three straight jump shots over the next two minutes. He attacked the basket and showed an aggressiveness we had not seen in this year’s Big Ten Tournament. He was 4-of-9 in the second half and finished with 14 points.
5. Thad Matta is going to miss Jon Diebler, a lot. We could easily be talking about Diebler’s suddenly new-found ability to put the ball on the floor, but this is a kid who means a whole lot more to Ohio State than simply the points he can score. He is like having a coach right on the court, and that’s not to take anything away from Lighty or anyone else, but Diebler is the one in constant communication with Matta and his assistants. He’s a leader and he makes the kinds of plays that win games, even when he’s not shooting well.
He was only 1-for-5 behind the arc Friday, so what did he do Saturday? He put the ball on the floor and got to the basket. He scored inside on three of his baskets, which opened things up for him on the outside. He also knocked down three shots from behind the arc, which what this team needs most from him. His biggest play of the day, however, came in the final minute of the first half. With his team leading by just one, Diebler stripped the ball away from Darius Morris at one end of the floor and then drove the lane for a basket at the other. He also hit a big three in response to one by Douglass earlier in the half. Along with his team-high 16 points, Diebler also had five rebounds, three assists, one steal and a block while playing all but 30 seconds of the game.
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