On the same day the Wolverines introduced newly hired football coach Brady Hoke, the men's basketball team was hosting its primary rivals, the Buckeyes. After having won nine of the last 10 games on the gridiron, OSU again took care of business on the hardwood with a 68-64 victory.
Playing in front of a late-arriving crowd, the homestanding Wolverines spent much of the night celebrating a change of pace in the football program. Hoke was recognized on the scoreboard during the first timeout, signs supporting him dotted the crowd and nine fans in the front row of the student section painted their chests to read "BRADYHOKE."
"I'm sure it did (add to the environment), but it's Ohio State and Michigan and you knew that there were going to be (a lot of buzz)," OSU head coach Thad Matta said. "You've got two really good programs going head to head in a great college environment."
It was enough to spur the home team to a fast start. Michigan (11-6, 1-3 Big Ten) jumped out to a 16-10 lead thanks to some hot early shooting but the Buckeyes (17-0, 4-0) held an 11-point lead with 8:36 remaining. They held on from there, but it was far from easy.
After a jumper from junior guard William Buford made it 55-44 Buckeyes, the Wolverines countered with a 7-1 run to whittle the lead down to five points with about five minutes left. OSU would push it back to nine, but a 7-1 U-M run capped by a drive by Darius Morris with exactly one minute remaining made it a 63-60 lead for the visitors.
OSU senior forward David Lighty hit one of two free throws to push it back to a two-possession game with 47.9 ticks left, but freshman guard Aaron Craft fouled Zack Novak in the right corner as he let off a three-pointer. It did not fall, but two of his ensuing three free throws did to make it a 64-62 game with 22.3 seconds left.
U-M fouled Buford, who swished both free throws with 18.6 seconds on the clock, but Morris found an easy drive to answer less than six seconds later to make it a two-point OSU lead at 66-64.
"I felt like taking the big shots," Buford said. "I always want to take the big shots. Today I was just fortunate to knock them down."
Finally, it was Craft who delivered the dagger with a pair of free throws with 9.4 seconds left on the clock that set the final margin. After Novak fouled out, Tim Hardaway Jr. missed a three-point attempt and time expired before his teammates could attempt another shot.
The Buckeyes would not have been there if not for a 12-0 run in the midway point of the second half that came thanks to their defense more than anything else. After the Wolverines had knotted the score at 41 with 16:32 remaining, OSU freshman forward Jared Sullinger corralled his own miss and put it back in, the Wolverines committed four turnovers and missed three shot attempts on their next seven possessions.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes got five baskets from four different players to push the lead to 53-41 and were threatening to blow the game open.
Buford led all scorers with 19 points on 6 of 13 shooting. Sullinger, who said he had never been in Crisler Arena before, added 12 and seven rebounds but fouled out with 1:19 remaining. Senior forward David Lighty added 12 points and Craft had 10.
The Buckeyes looked to be down a man in the second half as senior guard Jon Diebler collapsed to the court near the left block after his defensive efforts drove him into Lighty as the senior arrived to play help-side defense. Diebler's left elbow made contact with Lighty and he quickly went to the bench, where trainers attended to him.
He played the entire second half sporting a protective black wrap on the elbow and hit his first two three-point attempts to finish with nine points. After the game, head coach Thad Matta said the sharpshooter had hyperextended the elbow but was expected to be fine. He was seen after the game sporting an ice pack on the joint.
"His elbow swung back when he hit me," Lighty said. "He was fine. I'm sure he was probably sore, but we've played through injuries before. He's a senior. He's not going to leave the game in that situation."
It was a rough night for Sullinger. The reigning Big Ten freshman of the week doubled his previous career high with six turnovers and struggled to get untracked offensively. For that, he had the U-M defense to thank.
"We were trying to throw some different angles at him," Michigan head coach John Beilein said. "We were going to try to keep him off the block as much as possible and show him extra attention. We wanted him to see extra people and get it out of his hands."
The freshman also drew the ire of the crowd, which verbally abused him with an expletive all night and let out a rousing cheer when he picked up his fifth foul.
"It's a rivalry game, so there's always going to be bad blood between us two," he said. "It was a great basketball game. Michigan came to play and they had a great scouting report on us."
Michigan was led by Morris' 18 points.