Despite heading into the belly of the beast 7.5-point underdogs, Thad Matta, Aaron Craft, and the Ohio State Buckeyes entered the Crisler Center on a mission, but ultimately didn't have enough in the tank to emerge victorious. Behind the tenacious defense we've grown to expect from Craft, the Buckeyes countered their exemplary defense with a pleasantly surprisingly effective half-court offense. But Michigan shot out of their minds from beyond the arc in the second half, and when it mattered most, won a battle of endurance in overtime. Amir Williams had one of his best games of the season and LaQuinton Ross chimed in with a half for the ages, flashing the potential Ohio State fans had expected of him almost all season. Trey Burke had a shot for the win at the end of regulation, but his better than low quality look failed to ring true.
In a game that saw Michigan leading 18-8 early, Ohio State counterpunched and proved game for all fifteen rounds. A rally saw the Buckeyes take an at times five-point lead in the second half, before the teams traded prolific three-point makes and athletic post play down the stretch. Michigan junior Tim Hardaway Jr. at one point hit five straight three-pointers, but Ohio State managed to withstand the barrage and keep in it.
With National Signing Day 2013 at the forefront of the collective consciousness of both fan bases – particularly given the wide canyon of talent differential between their respective classes and the rest of the Big Ten – Michigan fans will get to at least start the festivities on an up note. Ohio State will have less than 24 hours to get over the loss before they start preparing to play host to number one Indiana Sunday afternoon.
Ohio State's 4-1 start seemed promising (albeit primordial) before a great off-the-ball slip screen for Trey Burke and the sort of shot that simultaneously terrifies and thrills Michigan fans from Nik Stauskas began to set the tone for the early part of the contest. As the game ebbed and flowed on, a rare three by Shannon Scott would give way to Michigan's first turnover of the game – almost eight minutes into it. Michigan's ball protection is amongst the nation's best, and by no accident. John Beilein coaches the team up to play efficient, team-first offense, and it bleeds through in just about all aspects of their game.
While Michigan seemed, momentum-wise, to have their pulse on the game, Ohio State continued chipping away at the early deficit. LaQuinton Ross, whose first-half seven points (including a diverse array of scores) marked probably his best individual 20 minutes of basketball season, hit a three, and a great play by Aaron Craft on a screen regained the lead for Ohio State, 29-28, with just under two minutes to play in the first half. 'Q' Ross would add one more layup for good measure following a Mitch McGary tip and the Buckeyes would take a 31-30 lead to the break. The splits at halftime were interesting enough, with Aaron Craft (for not even the first time in recent memory) leading the way in rebounds and Ross' 7 matching Deshaun Thomas' for the Ohio State lead.
After Aaron Craft started the second half with a surprisingly confident jumper, another huge three from him and a Sam Thompson jumper would help combat Michigan's best efforts and open up a 43-37 lead for the Buckeyes, their biggest of the game to that point. Craft would continue his trademark defense, and several equal parts athletic, equal parts tenacious sequences between he and Columbus native Burke would break out throughout the course of the second half.
The story of the second half, however, was Michigan's long-range marksmanship. In addition to the aforementioned five-trey stretch from Hardaway Jr., Michigan as a team were 8-for-8 from three until near the end of the game. The final five minutes of regulation would go down as the sort of Big Ten Network's Big Ten's Greatest Games fodder we've come to expect from college basketball's best conference, with each team taking steps towards winning the game, and the opposing side taking the blow and countering it gracefully.
Mitch McGary's dunk with just over a minute to go would give way to an unexpected, seemingly rushed jumper from Lenzelle Smith Jr that tied things up at 72 and gave Michigan the opportunity to both ice the clock and take the game's last shot. The offensive set catered to Trey Burke the entire time and he went one-on-one with his defender with an eye on playing hero. Burke's shot could've certainly been worse, but failed to find the bottom of the nylon necessitating five extra minutes.
The extra period proved to be a mix of sloppy, exhausted play, solid defense, and more of the former. Both teams looked so emotionally and physically spent that even when Michigan would put together consecutive smothering efforts defensively, their offense would look an equal amounts lost and ineffective. Deshaun Thomas was inexplicably nowhere to be found down the stretch, taking a grand total of zero shots after regulation and in some estimates, not even touching the ball on any of the offensive sets.
Just as maddening, Ohio State's far and away least effective one-on-one scorer, Aaron Craft, attempted repeatedly to blow past (the admittedly tired) Michigan defenders to try to create easy layup opportunities, only to have his plan backfire. After the second or so attempt at doing so in the game's final 90 seconds, Glenn Robinson III's miss of a second free throw would open the door for one last Ohio State shot. Craft drove into the paint once again, and in a sequence that was difficult to judge in real time but appeared contact was made, the onus fell the officials to determine whether the game may head to a second overtime. The refs punted, Aaron Craft outwardly displayed his dismay, and the Wolverines had their revenge against the Buckeyes.
John Beilein added another home victory over Ohio State to his resume, in spite of 17 from Deshaun Thomas and a pleasantly surprising 16 and 5 from LaQuinton Ross. Falling to 7-3 in Big Ten play, Ohio State will need to address what went wrong in a hurry, with their hopes at a regular season conference championship quickly fading from their grasps.