This was a situation where plenty of teams would have folded. With all the positive momentum in the world on the side of the Wolverines after introducing new football coach Brady Hoke and star quarterback Denard Robinson, the Buckeyes immediately fell behind the home team. Right off the bat, things could have spiraled out of control. Instead, OSU did what it has done all season: it steadied itself, it kept fighting and it found a way to win.
The home team felt good enough about the chance for the upset that fans were chanting "over-rated" at the Buckeyes in the first half. Then Jon Diebler, the team's leader in minutes played, goes down with a scary-looking injury right before the half.
What did OSU do? It turned to its defense in the second half, putting together a 12-0 lead that then stood up for the rest of the game. Afterward, U-M head coach John Beilein said that was the turning point – a stretch where his team committed four turnovers and missed three shots on seven possessions. It proved to be the difference.
After the game, OSU head coach Thad Matta delivered a quick and simple message to his charges. Lesser teams, he told them, would have folded up at any of a number of points in this one. Instead, the Buckeyes kept fighting and emerged with another well-earned victory.
Forget the style points. This one was all about grit, and the Buckeyes showed that they have plenty of it.
I think … that William Buford played one of his best games of the season. The junior guard finished with 19 points and he looked completely in control for nearly the entire game.
The mid-range jumper is falling, and Buford quietly piled up his points when it was a nip-and-tuck first half. With freshman Jared Sullinger struggling – more on that later – and the Wolverines changing defenses to fluster the OSU guards, Buford simply went to work. Few things take the air out of a run than a pull-up jumper by an opposing player.
Afterward, Matta joked about Buford missing one wide-open three-point attempt in the final moments that could have been the nail in the coffin. Aside from that one miss, I thought Buford's shot looked smooth and confident.
The Buckeyes seem to have one player step up on every given night. On this night, it was Buford.
I think … that you have to give Sullinger a lot of credit for his totals even though he clearly had one of the roughest games in his career to this point.
The freshman was held to 12 points and seven rebounds while committing a career-high six turnovers and fouling out for the first time. However, his ability to be on the court for as long as he was meant that the Buckeyes could continue to find looks for their guards because the Wolverines were going to pay close attention to the freshman.
Even though he was not scoring, he was freeing things up for his teammates. That's how you know a player has the respect of his foes. Now, would you like to see more production, fewer fouls and perhaps a cooler head from Sullinger? Absolutely, but in a game like this one Matta will take what he can get and give the big man a pat on the behind.
I think … that Aaron Craft might slowly be playing himself into the starting lineup. Before the season began, I felt the freshman would displace Dallas Lauderdale at some point and that date appears to be getting closer.
Although he earned the start and had the first basket of the game – on a dish from Sullinger – Lauderdale finished with seven minutes of playing time and contributed two points, one rebound and two fouls. He only entered the game in the second half to give Sullinger a break when he picked up his fourth foul with four minutes remaining and then to relieve him after he picked up his fifth.
Meanwhile, Craft directed the offense for nearly the entire game. He went for 32 minutes including the entire second half while scoring 10 points. He had two turnovers and just one assist, but he clearly made things move for his team and was impactful on both ends of the floor.
Matta said he planned to substitute more in the second half than he actually did but that the players on the court seemed to have a good sense for how the game was being played and he did not want to disturb that. It seems to be a common refrain when Craft is on the court for Lauderdale, and you have to wonder whether the freshman will ever break into the starting lineup.
It might be a moot point, however. Craft is the de facto fifth man on this team.