Rivals To Battle Again On Hardwood

Ohio State has defeated Michigan in both meetings this season, but it has not been easy. Now at the site of Evan Turner's game-winning shot from a season ago, the Buckeyes will try to make it three in a row this season against the Wolverines.

Whether it was by a stroke of luck or the masterplan of some evil genius, student cheering sections for Ohio State and Michigan were placed side by side Friday afternoon. As the top-seeded Buckeyes fended off an upset challenge from Northwestern, a verbal battle erupted in the upper section at Conseco Fieldhouse between fans of the two rival schools.

After listening to the "Maize Rage" assail OSU's players at the free throw line, the "Nuthouse" earned a measure of revenge thanks to the scoreboard. There, as part of a commercial for the Big Ten, was a clip of Evan Turner's miraculous shot to knock the Wolverines out of the Big Ten tournament a season ago.

Seizing upon the moment, the Buckeye faithful turned up the volume on their cheers while the Wolverines searched for a comeback.

Somewhere in the bowels of the arena, Stu Douglass likely grimaced without knowing why. When Turner let his shot fly last year, Douglass was the closest Michigan defender.

As Turner ran down the court in celebration, he kept his right arm outstretched in triumph. Standing there in disbelief, Douglass held the same physical pose with all the opposite emotions running through his body. Asked one year later how many times he had seen that play, he smiled a pained smile.

"Way too many," he said. "I can't even count.

"That was the heartbreaker of all heartbreakers, really. We were confident that we were going to go to the Big Ten championship game and get a win and go to the NCAA Tournament. That killed us. It killed us to see the seniors and how hard we fought. Words really can't describe it."

On that same court, Michigan will have a chance to earn some revenge today in a Big Ten tournament semifinal game (1:40 p.m., CBS). However, it is not that game that is fresh in the minds of the Wolverines, but the two contests between the teams this season.

On Jan. 12, the Buckeyes held on for a four-point victory in Ann Arbor in front of an emotionally charged crowd at Crisler Arena. Twenty-two days later, the Wolverines held a 26-23 halftime lead in Columbus before OSU freshman forward Jared Sullinger bullied his team to a 62-53 victory.

Since then, OSU has lost and regained the nation's No. 1 ranking and the Wolverines have likely played themselves into the NCAA Tournament by winning seven of their last nine games. It is those two games against the Buckeyes, however, that have stuck with Michigan's players.

"I love the challenge," freshman forward Evan Smotrycz said. "They're a great team. We played them tough the first two times but we definitely owe them one. We put ourselves in good positions to win the game and it hasn't turned out the way we wanted to and maybe we took a couple possessions off. They're a great team but we'll be ready to play them tough."

Redshirt freshman forward Jordan Morgan credited OSU's experience with helping the Buckeyes scratch out tough wins earlier this season.

"They've got a lot of experienced players who have won a lot of games," he said. "We've done a real good job lately of figuring out how to just win games. We've been down and had a few close games that we've really figured out recently how to win."

The Buckeyes played prior to the outcome of the Michigan-Illinois game, so they were unavailable for comment on the contest with the Wolverines. In OSU's win against Northwestern, freshman forward Jared Sullinger went 16 of 18 from the free-throw line to carry his team.

The Wolverines were watching.

"He'll knock them down and he's really good at drawing fouls so we have to play solid defense," Morgan said. "He's a big body inside. You've got to try to not let him get the ball as much as you can."

In two games against Michigan, Sullinger has averaged 15.5 points and 11.0 rebounds. However, Douglass pointed out that the Buckeyes have a number of other weapons including fifth-year senior forward David Lighty, senior guard Jon Diebler and junior guard William Buford.

"Buford is great in the midrange," he said. "(He has) great size and can get into the lane. Lighty has great athleticism and still can shoot. Diebler's been real hot. They're good at moving without the ball. It's not just Sullinger.

"It's tough, but we feel like we can get them. I don't know if we have their number or anything because we haven't beaten them, but we're just so close that we can taste it."

And if the interaction between the two fanbases during a game in which only one of them was playing is any indication, it should be a good atmosphere this afternoon.

"It will be fun," junior forward Zack Novak said. "It's a matchup that a lot of people are going to enjoy. (For) fans on both sides, I'm sure it's going to be a great environment. It's a chance. We've been right there with them this year. They've got a great team this year and they're playing very good basketball, but we're ready to go."


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