Craft Slams the Door on Burke, Michigan’s Undefeated Season
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Trey Burke got the look he wanted, it just wasn’t Michigan’s day.
The Wolverines had defeated all comers this season, and a victory over archrival Ohio State on Sunday would have vaulted them to the No. 1 spot in the rankings; the last remaining undefeated team in Division I college basketball.
They were that close.
If Burke’s three finds the bottom of the net, Michigan would have erased a 21-point first-half deficit to pull off the stunning comeback for just the fourth win against Thad Matta in 21 tries since he became the head coach at Ohio State.
But Burke’s shot rattled off the front of the rim, rolled around the basket and spun out into the hands of OSU junior Lenzelle Smith, Jr., who calmly canned both of his free throws to secure a 56-53 victory at Value City Arena.
“There's always satisfaction denying Michigan the No. 1 spot in the country,” OSU senior Evan Ravenel said emphatically after the game.
It was a big victory for the 15th-ranked Buckeyes (13-3, 3-1 Big Ten), and not just because it was Michigan, or even because they were undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country. A loss on Sunday would have put Ohio State two games back of first place in the Big Ten just four games into the conference schedule.
While that’s not an insurmountable mountain to climb, it’s not one these Buckeyes are probably built to handle at this point in the season.
“I hope we get confidence from this victory moving forward,” said Thad Matta, who improved to 17-3 against Michigan as head coach of the Buckeyes.
“This game signifies the halfway point of the season, but we’ve still got a lot of games left and we have to continue to improve.”
The Buckeyes nearly blew a 21-point lead over a young Michigan team on their home floor Sunday. They shot 35 percent from the floor in the second half and misfired on five of their six tries from behind the arc. They gave up a 14-5 run to end the first half and another 15-4 run in the second half, but found a way to make just enough plays down the stretch.
“Defensively we made stops and we also got big rebounds when we needed them. Those were the biggest difference in this game,” Matta said.
“We lost our composure momentarily there for a while. During a timeout I had to remind them of Will Ferrell’s (quote) ‘ELE – everybody love everybody,’ but we pulled out the victory and I’m proud of them.”
Burke, a native of Columbus who played alongside former OSU All-American Jared Sullinger at Northland High School, knocked down a three to give the Wolverines a quick lead to open the game.
Michigan wouldn’t lead again the rest of the night. Thomas and Aaron Craft keyed a 16-0 run for the Buckeyes, who quickly took control against the last undefeated team in college basketball. Ohio State pushed it’s lead to 21 points on a free throw from Amir Williams that made it a 29-8 game with 6:52 to play in the first half.
The Wolverines uncharacteristically turned the ball over nine times in the first half, with Ohio State quickly turning that into 16 points off turnovers at the other end of the court. Craft held Burke, one of the brightest young point guards in the country, to just five points and one assist in the first half.
“Anytime you get to play against a great guy like him you have some incentive to go out and see what you can do,” said Craft, who has gotten the better of Burke in three of their four meetings.
“Our defense did what it needed to do today and that really helped.”
Burke led Michigan with 15 points and Tim Hardaway, Jr. added 12, but they were a combined 9-of-28 form the floor against Ohio State. The Buckeyes held Michigan to 38 percent shooting from the floor, and the Wolverines were just 6-20 from behind the arc. That included and 0-3 mark from freshman Nik Stauskas, who was scoreless for the first time this season.
“They are a very good defensive team and we’ve got to finish some plays, but it would have been nice (to make some of those),” said coach John Beilein, who is in his sixth season at Michigan.
“We probably tried to make plays that we don’t always make. We’ll learn from a lot of those things.”
Beilein’s team did make one big push at the end of the half to stay within striking distance. A Jordan Morgan dunk cut Ohio State’s lead to 16 and a three from freshman Spike Albrecht made it a 14-point game with 2:10 to play. Burke would close out the half with a layup to cap a 14-5 run that kept Michigan in the game at just 12 down.
“We said there’s only one way we’re going to do this: stop-by-stop; possession-by-possession,” Beilein said. “We thought we had to be more efficient offensively.”
The Wolverines (16-1, 3-1 Big Ten) switched to a zone defense and the Buckeyes had trouble adjusting offensively. They scored only 12 points in the first 13 minutes of the second half as Michigan came all the way back to tie the game at 46-all with just over five minutes to play in the game.
Deshaun Thomas, who led all scorers with 20, fought off an ankle injury late in the second half as Ohio State pushed its lead back to six with three minutes to play, but it was only two when Burke pulled up from behind the arc with 15 seconds on the game clock.
“That was a great shot. I thought it was going to go in when I turned around,” said Craft, who held Burke to just 4-13 shooting, including 2-5 from long distance.
But it didn’t. Not today. Not for Burke. It just wasn’t his day, not against Craft and the Buckeyes.
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