By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 12, 2014
COLUMBUS — During pregame festivities at Value City Arena, fireworks shot off as No. 22 Ohio State men’s basketball team’s lineup was announced before its game against Michigan.
The loud, red, blazing streaks of color lit up the dimmed arena, and in the beginning of the first half, the 22nd-ranked Buckeyes personified the scarlet pyrotechnics.
Ultimately the scarlet and gray fireworks faded as the first half ended, and the 15th-ranked Wolverines pushed out (10-2 Big Ten, 18-6 overall) to a 70-60 win. Michigan knocked down free throws late in the game to the victory, to give it its first win in Columbus in 11 years.
The Wolverines trailed early and often through the first half but were finally able to chip away at Ohio State’s lead in the second. Midway through the second half, freshman guard Zak Irvin knocked down a 3-pointer, then sophomore guard Caris LeVert stole the ball and finished with a left-handed layup on the other end. Two made free throws by sophomore guard Nik Stauskas a possession later, gave the Wolverine’s a 44-43 lead — their first lead since the 17:51 mark in the first half.
One minute later, freshman guard Derrick Walton Jr. penetrated and got a layup to fall after drawing contact. He knocked down a free throw to finish the and-1 play giving Michigan a six-point lead and momentum it would carry to the end of the game.
“At the beginning of the game the pace was kinda frantic,” Walton said. “It kinda slowed down in the second half, I just did a good job of trying to pick my spots.”
The Buckeyes (6-6, 19-6) dominated the beginning of the contest, though. Four minutes in, Ohio State guard Aaron Craft lobbed a pass to forward Sam Thompson for an electrifying alley-oop dunk. Thirty-three seconds later, after a missed 3-pointer from Stauskas, Ohio State replayed its previous possession, this time with forward LaQuintin Ross throwing down a dunk after getting set up.
The Buckeyes pushed their lead to as many as 10 in the first half, but Michigan cut the lead to just four by the time the team headed to the locker room, thanks in part to an ensemble cast that stepped up at the end of the half.
The Wolverines helped their cause with big play on the boards outrebounding Ohio State, 39-27. Fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan collected eight rebounds — six on the offensive side, leading to second-chance points for Michigan.
On defense, the Wolverines focused on eliminating Craft from the flow of the game. The senior finished with just eight points, and Ross did the bulk of the scoring — finishing with a game-high 24 points.
“(We tried to) keep Craft the heck out of there,” Beilein said. “Just get him over there and let the other four guys play us.”
The effort from Ross down low wasn’t enough though — Ohio State relies on its shooting to win games. The Buckeyes came into the game shooting 35.3 percent from beyond the arc, Tuesday night they went 3-for-20 from deep.
But it was Walton who knocked down each of his three foul shots after being fouled behind the arc in the second half that pushed Michigan’s lead to 10, forcing the Buckeyes to foul.
“If you watched (Walton) earlier in the season, when he was coming off screens or doing anything, his shoulders were pointed sideways all the time,” Beilein said. “Now his shoulders are pointed at the basket, and he’s getting low and he’s getting down hill. It’s huge for him to be able to go north south.”
Walton finished with a double-double, adding 10 rebounds to his 12 points. Michigan coach John Beilein said the point guard became more comfortable taking over on the court, both by attacking the basket and vocally directing the offense.
Michigan went 8-of-8 from the line in the final minute and a half to ice the game on its way to its first win against a ranked Ohio State team in Columbus in program history.