By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 10, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS — Brutus brought the brute to the No. 10 Michigan basketball team on Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and the Wolverines were caught without their gloves on.
Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger shucked two underwhelming performances against Michigan earlier this season by the wayside and took control of the Big Ten Tournament semifinal, carrying the Buckeyes to a decisive 77-55 win over the Wolverines.
It was tough to believe that two-seed Michigan was the higher-seeded team this weekend, as three-seed Ohio State established dominance under the basket early and its domain spread to the perimeter later.
“A lot of things didn’t go our way today,” said redshirt sophomore center Jordan Morgan. “We kept fighting, but we couldn’t get a break. Couldn’t get a shot to fall. Couldn’t get big loose balls. It was like we just kept fighting uphill all day.”
Sullinger’s 16 points in the first half were more than he had in either of the teams’ matchups earlier this season, and in the second half he did his damage from the free-throw line.
Sullinger, a former high school teammate of Michigan freshman point guard Trey Burke, found points early by spinning right, spinning left, falling down, getting offensive rebounds and sinking jump shots. His 24 points were a game-high and he added six rebounds.
“He just was making tough shots,” Morgan said. “I still tried to make him make tough shots that I tried to make him make last game. There’s really no way to guard him when he’s making those shots.”
Everything that went right for Michigan this season went missing Saturday.
Burke had the worst game of his season, as Buckeye guard Aaron Craft stifled him all afternoon. Burke couldn’t find penetration and had to settle for contested 3-pointers when he could even get a shot off. The way Michigan attacked Ohio State, Burke had to shoot jumpers instead of attacking the rim like he does against other teams.
“It is (a problem that Ohio State forces me into jump shots) when I shoot the way I shot tonight,” Burke said. “But if I was shooting the way I know I can shoot, then it wouldn’t have been a problem. We just weren’t hitting shots tonight.”
Burke didn’t make a field goal until late in the second half and missed each of his seven attempts from 3-point range. He finished 1-for-11 from the floor and also committed a season-high eight turnovers.
The shots weren’t falling for anyone else, either. Michigan shot just 1-for-13 from behind the arc in the first half and shot 16 percent from long range for the game. That amounted to a dismal 31-percent shooting percentage overall.
“If we’re not hitting shots on offense, then the defense is going to kind of break down,” Burke said. “After six or seven possessions, it’s going to get tired of playing defense if you’re not hitting shots on offense.”
Only senior forward Zack Novak had a strong game, converting two tough layups in traffic and knocking down two 3-pointers in his 10-point effort.
After Sullinger was held in check in the teams’ first two games, Ohio State coach Thad Matta found a way to get his sophomore open down low. Michigan’s double-teams were ineffective and Sullinger was able to spin out of trouble to find an open shot or teammate at will.
When it wasn’t Sullinger bullying the Wolverines down low, it was forward Deshaun Thomas who used his versatility to create mismatches with the undersized Wolverines.
The sophomore was effective inside and out and picked up where Sullinger left off at halftime. Thomas took over in the second half and finished with 22 points on 10-for-15 shooting, adding six rebounds.
“They’ve got so much talent from top to bottom,” Morgan said. “All of their players can kill you. It’s hard trying to strategize for one person or two people or three people because even Craft steps up and hits big threes like he did today.”
Added Michigan coach John Beilein: “They've got a lot of bullets, rockets in that gun, and they use them very well.”
Nothing looked good for Michigan.
Senior guard Stu Douglass botched an alley-oop to sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. Morgan missed a dunk on the baseline and air-balled a four-footer. Hardaway Jr. got brick-happy once again and Douglass got reamed out by Beilein after missing a long 3-pointer early in the shot clock.
“They came out with so much energy,” Morgan said. “They probably were sour about (Michigan's 56-51 victory in February). I didn’t think we were ready for it.”
Ohio State went into halftime up 34-21 after a disastrous Wolverine first half. It didn’t seem possible for Michigan to shy away even more.
But Ohio State guard William Buford drained a 3-pointer from the corner to build the lead to 16 to open the second half, and that lead would only expand. It was clear that Michigan was counting down the minutes until it could return to Ann Arbor.
“Coming out at halftime, we normally fight back like in Arkansas and many other games that we played on the road,” Hardaway Jr. said. “Today was very embarrassing to us and it really stings a lot.”