For a minute there, it looked like Michigan might be onto something. With just under 10 minutes to go in the second half, Tim Hardaway Jr. blew past his man and took the ball straight to the hoop for a finger roll layup. The bucket made the score 47-45 in favor of Ohio State, but Michigan had the momentum and seemed ready to pull the upset.
Up to that point, the Wolverines had done a pretty good job on the OSU offense. Freshman beast Jared Sullinger was double-teamed every time he got the ball near the low post. Michigan's team speed allowed them to rotate quickly enough so that the subsequent kick to the perimeter did not burn them for a wide open jump shot. On the other end, Michigan's playmaking guards Hardaway Jr. and Darius Morris took advantage of Buckeye foul trouble by creating enough shots to keep things close.
After Hardaway's layup made it a 2-point game, however, Ohio State erupted with a 16-0 run in the next five minutes that reminded the audience why the Bucks are the best team in the country. A more dominant five-minute stretch you are unlikely to see in a college basketball game. Sullinger and David Lighty got it started with some powerful work down low, then Aaron Craft and William Buford pitched in. Craft used his dribbling skills to get to the free throw line while Buford threw in a couple of smooth jumpers. On defense, Dallas Lauderdale found his way into the game and destroyed Darius Morris with a couple of ridiculous blocks.
That's a lot of Buckeye lovin' from a guy who isn't a fan, but I have to admit, I love the way their top five guys play together. As we saw in the first half, things aren't as easy for OSU when only three of their starters are in the game. Because Lighty and Craft accumulated 2 fouls each early in the game, Thad Matta was forced to throw Deshaun Thomas and the rarely seen Jordan Sibert into the game. Not only did this mean Ohio State was without their top two options to defend Hardaway Jr. and Morris, but offensively, they struggled to find open looks after Sullinger passed out of his constant double team.
I'm wondering why Thad Matta didn't opt to go with Lauderdale until later in the game. I understand that Sibert might match up better with Michigan's small lineup, but after seeing how devastating Lauderdale was to Michigan's penetration attempts in the second half, it seems maybe he should have been inserted in the first for some extra defense.
At one point John Beilein decided it would be a good idea to take Morris and freshman big Jordan Morgan out of the game and play a lineup consisting of Hardaway Jr. along with Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, Matt Vogrich and Evan Smotrycz. I'd love to know what the Michigan coach was thinking with this, because the latter four guys are all shooting guard/small forward types who usually need to be set up to score. That left the admittedly talented but still inexperienced Hardaway Jr. being leaned on to create for four other guys. I understand wanting to give workhorse point guard Morris a rest, but at least leave Morgan on the floor. Morgan has some post moves to work with and is also the only guy on Michigan who can guard Sullinger one on one.
Speaking of Sullinger, he had 6 offensive rebounds today. 2 or 3 of those o-boards were off of his own misses. At one point Sullinger was throwing the ball at the basket so recklessly that it seemed like he was missing on purpose just to grab the rebound and be in better position to lay the ball in the bucket. Not a bad strategy when your opponent's front line is as soft as Michigan's.
Jon Diebler didn't reach supernova mode, but he was hot enough today to lead the Bucks with 16 points. He also surprised by hitting on as many two-pointers (3/4) as 3-pointers (3/8).
Ohio State now moves on to take on the upstart Nittany Lions in the Big Ten Tournament title game. Whether they take home the hardware or not, the Bucks are likely looking at the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, the Wolverines are still in good shape for a bid, but a win today would have given them something to do on Sunday while waiting for a verdict.