Freshman point guard Trey Burke was the talk of the town in Indianapolis on Friday night after scoring a career-high 30 points in the Michigan men’s basketball team’s overtime win over Minnesota.
On Saturday night, he was still the center of many conversations — and no, it wasn’t because of his game-high seven rebounds.
Burke scored 11 of the Wolverines’ first 12 points and later scored nine points in overtime to lead Michigan to a 73-69 victory over the Golden Gophers. But the freshman followed his career night with his worst collegiate performance to date.
With Burke held in check all game long, the Wolverines faltered, falling to Ohio State, 77-55. It was Michigan’s most lopsided loss of the season.
“It definitely was (my worst game),” Burke said. “It goes like that sometimes, I understand that. (Friday), I had a great game. (Saturday), I had a bad game.
“I just think it was a bad night — an unlucky night — the total opposite of (Friday).”
Playing against the team he grew up idolizing as a child and matched up against the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in sophomore point guard Aaron Craft, Burke never got comfortable.
The freshman didn’t score until the 6:55 mark of the second half. Before that, he missed all eight of his shots — including six 3-pointers — and committed eight turnovers. His previous high for turnovers, six, came back in December.
Burke said the defensive strategy that Ohio State employs to stifle the ball screen that he uses so effectively is unique to the Buckeyes. It’s difficult to attack, partly because of Craft’s defensive ability, but also because of the Buckeyes’ length.
“They tend to corner me on the ball screens and (use) brackets,” Burke said. “Craft makes sure I can’t use (the ball screen) and (sophomore forward Jared Sullinger)’s right there, so it’s kind of like a mini trap. It’s just a look that we really don’t see a lot. We know we’re going to see it against them, but it kind of throws our offense off.
“We made adjustments to it, but … if shots are not falling, then adjustments aren’t going to work.”
Craft and Burke have been battling since their days of playing high school basketball against each other in Ohio, but both were quick to point out that Burke’s poor performance wasn’t necessarily Craft winning a one-on-one matchup.
“Stopping a great player like him, especially with how he was feeling from (Friday), it was definitely a team effort,” Craft said. “(I was) just trying to not make it about me against him because that’s not what it’s about.
“Our bigs did a great job hedging ball screens today and everyone else did a good job of zoning up and not giving easy baskets for the most part. So it was definitely a team effort on him.”
But at one pivotal moment in the game, at about the halfway mark of the first half, it did come down to Craft and Burke.
With Michigan trailing by 11, each point guard had one foul. Leading a fast break, Burke attacked the hoop, looking for a transition layup. Craft, though, got to the paint first and set up for a charge. Burke’s layup went in, just as both players crashed to the floor.
But instead of the Wolverines narrowing the margin back to single digits and Craft taking a seat on the sideline with two fouls, Burke was called for a charge. The freshman was relegated to the bench, and by the time he returned, the Buckeyes had already created a sizable lead.
“It definitely was a turning point,” Burke said. “I personally felt like I got on his side. I personally felt like it should’ve been an and-one, but you can’t change a ref’s mind. He did do a good job at getting back into charging position, but it definitely changed the game.”
Even after returning to the game, Burke wasn’t the same.
“Playing with two fouls is terrible, because you can’t play the type of defense you need to play,” Burke said. “And then on the offensive end, you can’t really go to the rack and be as aggressive as you want to because guys are trying to take charges.”
The Columbus native finished with just five points — his lowest output since he scored five against UCLA in Maui on Nov. 23 — to go along with his seven rebounds, which matched a career-high. He shot 1-for-11, and 0-for-7 from 3-point land, a stark fall-off from his 11-for-14 shooting performance against Minnesota, when he made three of his four 3-pointers.
Though the sloppy and often out-of-rhythm showing was atypical for the freshman, his composure throughout the game reflected the poise he’s shown all year.
“I give Trey credit,” said senior guard Zack Novak. “He had a rough day, but by his demeanor, you couldn’t tell it, and he just stayed up and he was rock solid like he has been all year.”
Added Michigan coach John Beilein: “His attitude was outstanding the entire time. … I never saw him get shook one time, and that shows about who he is.”