Buckeyes Continue Perfect March, Decimate Wolverines in Big Ten Semis
By Ben Axelrod
INDIANAPOLIS — Last week, an Ohio State win over Michigan State gave both the Buckeyes and No. 10 Michigan (24-9, 13-5) shares of the regular season Big Ten championship. When OSU met up with the Wolverines in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament on Saturday, the two teams looked like anything but co-champions.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Picking up right where they left off from after their blowout win in the quarterfinals over Purdue, the Buckeyes jumped out to a 16-3 lead and never looked back, en route to a 77-55 win over Michigan on Saturday. The win moves Ohio State into Sunday’s Big Ten championship game, where they will meet another conference co-champion in Michigan State.
Following a 30-point, 12-rebound performance against the Boilermakers on Friday, OSU forward Jared Sullinger remained in All-American form, scoring a team-high 24 points and pulling down six rebounds on Saturday. The Buckeye big man got off to a fast start, scoring eight of his team’s first 10 points. Sullinger finished the first half with 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting for an OSU squad that led by as many as 16 points before ultimately taking a 34-21 lead into intermission.
“When the first shot fell, I knew it was going to be a good night for me,” Sullinger said.
“We were just in attack mode like we were yesterday. My teammates found me in the right spots.”
A William Buford 3-point shot to open the second half gave OSU a 16 point lead. That wound up being the fewest points the Wolverines found themselves behind after halftime. With a fourth-consecutive Big Ten championship game in their sights, the Buckeyes stepped on the collective throats of the Wolverines, leading by as many as 28 points with two minutes left in the game.
Sullinger said that he was impressed with his team’s refusal to let its foot off the gas.
“We can’t. Not in the postseason, ‘cause its March,” Sullinger said.
“Anything can happen. We can't let our foot off anybody.”
While Saturday featured the fourth double-digit scoring outing in as many games for Sullinger, the Big Ten semifinals weren’t as kind to his former teammate and Michigan point guard Trey Burke. After the Big Ten Freshman of the Year scored 17 points and dished out five assists in the Wolverines’ win over OSU on Feb. 17, Burke was held to just five points on 1-of-11 shooting against the Buckeyes on Saturday.
The Columbus native also committed eight turnovers while spending the majority of his 30 minutes on the court being guarded by the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year, OSU point guard Aaron Craft.
“Stopping a great player like him, especially with how he was feeling from yesterday, it was definitely a team effort tonight. And just trying to not make it about me against him because that's not what it's about,” Craft said.
“He's a great player, but fortunately enough today, he didn't make too many shots.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
Sophomore Deshaun Thomas continued his late-season tear with his second-consecutive 22-point performance this weekend for the Buckeyes. The OSU forward is averaging 20 points per night in the Buckeyes’ past seven games and has emerged to give the Buckeyes arguably the best 1-2 scoring punch between himself and Sullinger.
“We have many guys who can score. One day I'll be hot, Will (Buford), or Craft. So I just try to go to the offensive glass to get easy baskets,” Thomas said.
“Try not to throw up bad shots and just do the little things. Get the extra rebounds and extra kick outs and get it back inside.”
OSU’s win on Saturday marked the third-consecutive year that the Buckeyes have knocked the Wolverines out of the Big Ten Tournament. With Michigan now in its rearview mirror, OSU now turns its attention towards a Michigan State team with whom the Buckeyes split their season series.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see their game plan. We just played them a week ago,” Sullinger said, referring to the Buckeyes’ buzzer-beating 72-70 victory in East Lansing.
A win over the Spartans would give the Buckeyes a record third-consecutive conference tournament title, and depending on what happens in other conferences around the country, it could potentially mean a second-consecutive No. 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“The Big Ten is a really tough conference. Every team you play, you have the chance to lose if you're not ready to go,” Craft said.
“As for the NCAA Tournament, that's something that we're not worrying about right now, we haven't talked about much either as a team or with the coaching staff. Right now our focus is on Michigan State tomorrow and what we have to do to be successful in that game.”
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