Wolverines Feel Like They ‘Owe’ Buckeyes
By Brandon Castel
INDIANAPOLIS — It took more than 39 minutes for Michigan players to get their hopes up, but only two-tenths of a second for Ohio State to break their hearts.
Just when it looked like the eighth-seeded Wolverines were going to pull off the upset of the No. 1-seed Buckeyes in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, Evan Turner rose up like a phoenix from the ashes and dropped a 37-foot dagger at the buzzer to stun everyone at Conseco Fieldhouse.
That was one year ago today, but Turner’s shot will continue to live in infamy long after anyone who played in that game has moved on. Most of the Michigan players say they no longer think of that devastating shot, despite the fact it brought their 2009-10 season to an abrupt and demoralizing conclusion.
Not Darius Morris. That shot by Turner, which ran over and over again on Sportscenter, has been rolling around in the back of his mind for an entire year.
“Last year when we played them here, we played them close and then Evan Turner hit a buzzer beater, so a lot of that stuff runs through my head,” the sophomore point guard said.
“It’s stuff that makes me want to go out and play hard tomorrow.”
Morris was only a freshman on that team a year ago, and he went scoreless in 18 minutes against the Buckeyes. In his second year in Ann Arbor, Morris has quickly blossomed into one of the best guards in the conference.
He was recently named third-team All-Big Ten after averaging over 15 points and six assists per game during the regular season, but he still hasn’t been able to erase the sting of Turner’s shot with a victory over the Buckeyes.
“They’ve handed us two losses (this year), so we definitely owe them something,” Morris said Friday after Michigan (20-12) advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament with a five-point win over Illinois.
“Now we have to go out and do it.”
Morris scored eight of his 17 points in the final eight minutes Friday to help the Wolverines rally from nine points down to stun Illinois in their Big Ten quarterfinal game. Michigan closed out their 60-55 win over the Illini with a 21-4 run, and maybe—just maybe—with a little extra motivation from knowing the Buckeyes were already waiting for them in the semifinals.
“We were focused on Illinois, but it feels good to get another shot,” said Stu Douglass, the kid who appeared in every one of those Sportscenter highlights
“We’ve been good in the second games. We still had some struggles at Ohio State, but I think we adjusted and the coaches had a great game plan for us.”
Douglass was “that close” to getting his hand in Turner’s face on the halfcourt shot, but it likely would not have mattered. Turner knocked that shot down like it was a 15-foot pull-up jumper and he was the only person in the building.
Like that game prior to “the shot,” the Wolverines played well in both of their meetings with Ohio State this season. They nearly knocked them off in Ann Arbor back in January and kept it to single digits in Columbus, but they are getting tired of near-victories.
“Yeah, I think we put ourselves in good position to win the games,” said freshman Evan Smotrycz.
“It hasn’t turned out the way we wanted it to, maybe we took a couple possessions off or whatever it was, but I think we definitely owe them one. They’re a great team, but we’ll be ready to play them tough.”
Smotrycz hit four of the Wolverines’ 11 threes in the first meeting between these two teams in Ann Arbor, but it just wasn’t enough to pull off the upset of the then No. 1-ranked and undefeated Ohio State.
They were able to hold Jared Sullinger to 12 points and seven rebounds as their defense kept him off-balance all night, but William Buford dropped 19 points and the Buckeyes made their free-throws down the stretch in a 68-64 win.
“Our schemes of doubling and sending multiple guys at him, I think that’s an advantage for us,” said Smotrycz, who was one of many Wolverines helping to guard Sullinger that night.
“It kind of messes with him a little bit. He’s great and we definitely have to work our game plan around him.”
Ohio State’s star freshman was much better in the second meeting, however, as he scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in a 62-53 win over Michigan in Columbus.
“I think if you’re a competitor and you’ve gone up against somebody and you haven’t beat them that season, you’d love to have the opportunity to play them again to get a victory,” said Morris, who scored a combined 30 points in the two regular-season meetings.
“You always want to play who they consider the best.”
The Buckeyes are ranked No. 1 in the country and will likely be the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament when the brackets are released Sunday night, but this game runs even deeper.
“The fact they’re our rivalry just puts a little bit more on it,” Morris said of Saturday’s matchup (1:40 p.m. ET, CBS).
“Coming from L.A. and having one year of experience, I’m just like every other Michigan fan or Michigan man. There’s something about Ohio State that doesn’t sit right with you.”
As always with these two schools, the feeling is mutual.
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