Buckeyes outlast Wolverines, Take Sole Possession of First
By Ben Axelrod
COLUMBUS, Ohio — With less than five minutes left and No. 4 Ohio State leading No. 22 Michigan by nine points, OSU forward Jared Sullinger took flight, slammed the ball through the hoop and the door on the Wolverines.
It set up a final four minute surge to give the Buckeyes (19-3, 7-2 Big Ten) a 64-49 win over their conference rival on Sunday.
Sullinger scored 13 points—including six in the final five minutes—as the Buckeyes broke a tie for the conference lead with the Wolverines (16-6, 6-3) and put themselves a half-game ahead of Michigan State in the Big Ten standings.
The OSU sophomore’s point total was matched by his high school teammate and Michigan freshman point guard Trey Burke, who added five assists and five turnovers for the Wolverines.
“Trey’s a great player,” OSU point guard Aaron Craft said.
“He’s one of those guys you want to have on your team and he’s one of those guys that you know he’s going to be in attack mode the whole game.”
It was an impressive homecoming for the Columbus-native, but not enough for a Michigan team that gave up 14 offensive rebounds and 16 second-chance points on Sunday.
Eight of those offensive rebounds came from OSU guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr. Two weeks after scoring a career-high 28 points against Indiana, the sophomore guard again led the Buckeyes with 17 points and 12 rebounds for the first double-double performance of his career.
“I knew that was going to be our edge in our rebounding and just doing the little things,” Smith said.
“I kind of stuck to that early and just found that hot hand and got myself into the position to get those rebounds.”
Smith’s first half performance—which included nine points and seven rebounds—helped negate early foul trouble suffered by Sullinger, who spent the final five minutes of the half saddled to the bench with two fouls.
Both teams battled throughout a back-and-forth first half that saw four ties and seven lead changes and the Buckeyes take a 24-21 lead into intermission after a 3-point shot from senior guard William Buford.
Michigan coach John Beilein said that his team failed to take advantage of Sullinger’s foul trouble.
“We were in good position,” Beilein said.
“They just got tremendous talent. We got to hit the open shots that we had. We got to finish plays at the rim to stay in there.”
The Buckeyes failed to pull ahead by more than six points throughout the first six minutes of the second half, but a 14-2 run gave OSU some breathing room and a 13-point lead with 11 minutes remaining the game.
That 13-point lead would be the Buckeyes’ largest lead until the final minute of the game thanks to a Michigan squad that refused to back down, trimming the OSU lead to seven points with less than six minutes left in the game. The Wolverines couldn’t get the Buckeyes’ advantage to anything fewer than seven, however, as Sullinger’s dunk helped jump start a 12-6 OSU run to finish out the game.
The Buckeyes held Michigan—who didn’t shoot its first free throw attempt until there was 2:34 remaining in game—without a field goal for the final four minutes of play.
“I just feel like we were connected,” Smith said.
“Whenever we come out and we’re connected on defense, we pretty much get the job done.”
The second half featured a 50 percent shooting performance from OSU, a vast improvement from the 34.6 percent on 9-of-26 shooting that the Buckeyes showcased in the first half.
“We tried to push the ball a little bit more, tried to get in transition a little bit,” Craft said.
“They did a great job in the first half of slowing it down a little bit and not allowing us to get any points in transition and I think that’s when we’re at our best.”
With the control of the Big Ten lead and a third consecutive conference championship back in their hands, the Buckeyes will now prepare to take on another team that will likely try to slow the pace down on them when they travel to Madison, Wisc. to take on No. 25 Wisconsin (17-5, 6-3).
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