Buckeyes Fall Flat at Rival Michigan
By Brandon Castel
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — With five minutes left in the game and their team clinging to a five-point lead over Ohio State, Michigan fans began “overrated” chant inside the sold-out Crisler Center Saturday.
The game was a long way from being over, but it didn’t feel that way.
Not with the way Ohio State was playing.
After scoring a season-low 20 points in the first half, the No. 6-ranked Buckeyes continued to struggle offensively in the second half of their 56-51 loss in Ann Arbor.
Michigan fans were all-too-happy to gloat as they neared their first victory over Ohio State in seven tries. Afterward, the players too felt a sense of relief over snapping a six-game losing streak to the Buckeyes (22-5, 10-4).
“I think it’s a step for us,” UM center Jordan Morgan said.
“Me and the sophomore and freshmen hadn’t beat Ohio State. It was a big step for our program, and it was really important for us to show we’re a legit team to beat a really good team like that.”
How good a team they beat is up for debate right now. The Buckeyes are ranked among the top-10 in the country and they are tied with the Wolverines (20-7, 10-4) for second place in the Big Ten, but they have struggled mightily in the month of February.
Much like their loss to Michigan State last Saturday, the Buckeyes struggled to make shots against the Wolverines, who never trailed during their five-point victory.
“There are times when you don't make shots and sometimes you grind out those wins,” Jared Sullinger said after the game.
“In this case, we weren't making shots so we stopped playing defense…we let them score too much. They go whatever shot they wanted. We didn’t get stops when we needed them.”
The Wolverines certainly got some big baskets late in the game from Stu Douglass, Zack Novak and especially freshman point guard Trey Burke, but it is hard to win any game, especially on the road, with just 51 points.
The Buckeyes shot 39 percent from the floor and were just 3-for-16 behind the arc with all three makes coming from Deshaun Thomas. In fact, if it had not been for the sophomore out of Fort Wayne, Ind., Ohio State may have been on the wrong end of a blowout.
“He carried us tonight, there’s no question about that,” Sullinger said of his classmate.
Thomas scored 25 of the team’s 51 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for his first career double-double. He also had eight of Ohio State’s 19 made baskets, with six of them coming from Sullinger.
They combined for 39 of the team’s 51 points and 21 of 34 rebounds. Afterward, Sullinger admitted the Buckeyes were settling for too many long jump shots.
“Honestly, kind of, but they were open shots and we just missed shots,” Sullinger said shaking his head.
“As soon as we start making shots I think we’ll be a pretty good basketball team. We just couldn’t make a shot.”
Part of that was the defensive game plan by Michigan coach John Beilein. Considered to be an excellent X’s and O’s guy, Beilein has done a good job of frustrating Sullinger in the past with his constant double-teams.
He tried a different approach this time.
“We didn’t double all the time on Sullinger,” Beilein said.
“We varied our action with him, which had a lot to do with confidence in what Jordan could do if he was out of foul trouble.”
Morgan and the Wolverines did a good job of keeping Sullinger out of his rhythm in the first half. They limited him to four points and four rebounds as they took a 25-20 lead into the locker room.
Sullinger was much more effective in the second half as the Buckeyes started to take things inside.
“I thought we tried that and there were a couple charge calls and after that we got kind of nervous,” Sullinger said.
“We got timid and started falling in love with the three again.”
The Buckeyes still managed to cut the lead to three on multiple occasions in the final five minutes, but every time Michigan responded. Douglass and Novak each buried a long stepback two at the end of the shot clock, and then Burke had the dagger.
After OSU cut it to 52-49 with two minutes to play, Burke beat Aaron Craft off the dribble and drove through traffic in the lane for a layup off the glass to make it a two-possession game.
The Columbus native also knocked down a big jump shot with nine seconds on the clock to secure the win. He finished with a team-high 17 points and five assists, while Morgan added 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Both teams are now a half-game behind Michigan State with four games to play.
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