Take a Number: Buckeyes Headed Back to Big Ten Final
By Brandon Castel
INDIANAPOLIS — For the fifth time in six years, Ohio State will play in the Big Ten tournament title game following their 68-61 win over Michigan Saturday.
It came one day after UM guard Stu Douglass said his team might be on the verge of overtaking the highly-ranked Buckeyes.
“I don’t know if we have their number a little bit, because we haven’t beaten them, but we’re so close we can taste it,” Douglass said in the locker room after Michigan’s win over Illinois Friday.
Saturday’s game was rarely as close as the final score would suggest, despite the fact both David Lighty and Aaron Craft—two all-conference defensive players—spent most of the first half on the bench with foul trouble.
“Today there was no way Dave and I could stay in with the way they were driving the ball and the way the game was being called,” said Craft, who played only three minutes in the first half against the Wolverines (20-13).
“But we had guys come off the bench and make some big plays for us.”
Those “guys” were freshmen Deshaun Thomas and Jordan Sibert, who came off the bench and gave the Buckeyes (31-2) good minutes in the first half before Jared Sullinger and William Buford could take over the game down the stretch.
“I think we learned we have players who can do some things we haven’t really seen all year,” said Craft, who finished with nine points, two rebounds and three assists in 23 minutes.
“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.”
It was Sibert who provided the early spark with a steal at half-court and a two-handed dunk in transition to give the Buckeyes a 20-17 lead with 6:35 to play in the first half. Ohio State led 29-27 in the final minute of the half, when Jon Diebler poked the ball lose at one end before driving and finishing at the other to give the Buckeyes a 31-27 halftime lead.
“The biggest thing was just our guys, I thought we defended and continued to defense,” OSU Head Coach Thad Matta said.
“We got an energy going offensively and just a pace about us where we were able to get out and get some easy baskets.”
Lighty picked up his third foul in the first 20 seconds of the second half, and once again it was Thomas providing a spark off the bench. After knocking down a big three, Thomas lifted his hand in the air with three fingers and then gave a salute to the crowd.
“That felt great, (almost) like being back in the high school days,” said Thomas, who finished with nine points and four rebounds in 21 minutes.
“We were out there having fun and that was just getting the crowd involved.”
Thomas also had a block on a three-point attempt by Zach Novak, and the Buckeyes started to pull away in the second half. Sullinger knocked down a jumper and then Buford as Ohio State got out to a 38-27 lead.
The Wolverines refused to go away. They pulled back to within two, at 47-45, on a finger-roll by Tim Hardaway Jr., but they would not score again for nearly five minutes. Ohio State went on a 16-0 run, including nine straight after Buford had a minor altercation with Michigan forward Jordan Morgan with just under eight minutes to play in the game.
“Will feels like I get picked on a lot, like people try to yank my chain,” said Sullinger, who finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
“Will has my back and he decided enough is enough. He decided to step in.”
Buford seemed to take the incident personally, as he went on a tear, scoring six straight points, all on jump shots, over the next two minutes. Lauderdale take care of things at the other end with two big time blocks.
“Dallas came in and got the blocked shots and got some steals and really sparked us,” Craft said of the senior, who took away dribble penetration for Hardaway and Darius Morris.
The Buckeyes led by 17 with 3:58 to play when Matta subbed in Thomas and Sibert for Diebler and Buford. The game seemed to be under wraps, but the bench faltered down the stretch and Matta was forced to put his started back on the court with 1:15 to play.
Even that didn’t stop Michigan from cutting the lead to just four, at 65-61, with 23 seconds to play.
“At the end it was bad, turning the ball over and making bad decisions, fouling on threes and stuff like that,” said Lighty, who had a key offensive rebound and putback off a missed free throw by Sullinger.
“Overall we did a great job, especially defensively. In the first half we held them to 30-something percent shooting and in the second half our defense is really what led us to getting into that little lead we had.”
With the win, the Buckeyes advance to the tournament title game for the third straight year, where they will face either Michigan State or Penn State on Sunday.
Game Play by Play
Season Stats Year to Date
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