Michigan coach John Beilein woke up at about 5 a.m. on Saturday and stayed up well past 1 a.m.
In the intervening 20 hours, Beilein passed out doughnuts to the Maize Rage at sunrise, attended ESPN’s College GameDay, dispensed interviews, took his team through its walkthrough, and for dessert, beat archrival Ohio State.
In front of a packed Crisler Center and a nationwide TV audience on Saturday night, the Wolverines led throughout and stormed to a perfect 15-0 home record with a 56-51 victory.
“To walk into that arena today was a bit moving,” Beilein said. “I felt it wasn’t just a rivalry game — it was contending for a Big Ten championship. I thought it was special.”
Freshman guard Trey Burke overcame stingy defense from Buckeye guard Aaron Craft to put up one of his most spectacular performances yet, scoring 17 points and adding five assists. Though Craft limited Burke in the half-court, the freshman found other ways to lift the Wolverines.
Burke’s electrifying assists, layups in transition and clutch basket with 11 seconds to go helped Michigan overcome the team that pounded the Wolverines by 15 in Burke’s hometown of Columbus just three weeks ago.
His childhood best friend, Jared Sullinger, along with forward Deshaun Thomas, did what they could to bring Ohio State back. The pair of forwards accounted for almost all of the Buckeyes’ offense, but the comeback attempt fell short.
Sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. continued his emergence down the stretch of the Big Ten season, after bricking his way through the opening two-thirds of the conference schedule. He made four of five shots and swished both of his 3-point tries, finishing with 13 points.
In the first half, Ohio State didn’t make a 3-pointer, and when the team tried to take it to the basket, it often found itself called for an offensive foul. The Buckeyes finished the game 3-for-16 from behind the arc and were called for five charges.
“We knew that a couple of their players go to the rack hard, attack the rack really hard,” Burke said. “We knew that if we could step over and take a charge, then the game would go in our favor.”
Craft picked up one of the charging fouls and was forced to sit for the last four minutes of the half. Meanwhile, Burke found Buckeye freshman Shannon Scott guarding him and took advantage. He penetrated and kicked it out to senior guard Stu Douglass for a 3-pointer, he drove the baseline and drew a foul on Scott, and he buried a step-back jumper from the free-throw line two possessions later.
That field goal gave Michigan a 25-18 lead, but a layup just before the buzzer from Thomas cut the Wolverine lead to five at the half. It was Ohio State’s lowest-scoring first half of the season.
Michigan emerged from the locker room with some flash.
On a fast break early in the second half, Burke completed a smooth, one-handed bounce pass to a streaking Jordan Morgan, who finished with the left-handed flush.
Two possessions later, Burke spiked another bounce pass to Morgan, the redshirt sophomore center, in transition. Craft tried to kick out his leg to stop the ball and the Michigan score, but Morgan picked up the ball and created a mirror-image replay of his previous dunk on the right side.
“Craft is such a tricky defender,” Burke said. “I kind of looked him off with my eyes, and just gunned it in there. I knew Jordan was going to run for me. After the first dunk he got, I knew he was going to continue to run for me and I was going to be able to get him the ball.”
Morgan finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds to give him his first-career double-double — against one of the top big men in the country, no less.
Thomas did all he could to keep the Buckyes within striking distance. He put up eight points and seven rebounds in the first half, and then scored the first ten Ohio State points in the second. Thomas had already recorded a double-double just minutes into the second half and finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds — both were game-highs.
Sullinger also began to come alive in the second frame, scoring six straight points to cut the Michigan lead to four.
Ohio State whittled the lead to three and appeared to have a chance at tying the game when forward Lenzelle Smith Jr. drove into the lane and made a bank shot, knocking over Morgan. Once again, the Buckeyes were called for a charge and Douglass capitalized on the other end with a fadeaway jump shot as the shot clock expired.
The next possession, the other senior guard, Zack Novak, also drained a jumper late in the shot clock to put Michigan up five.
“When the shot clock goes down and you find the ball in your hands, you’ve got to make a big play,” Douglass said. “And if Zack and I don’t hit those shots, we don’t come out of here with a win. Plays aren’t drawn up for us, but you’ve got to make big shots sometimes when things are going crazy.”
Another Burke drive from the left side here, a travel call on Ohio State there, and Michigan found itself up 54-49 with under a minute left. Craft made two free throws to cut the lead to three, and the Buckeyes needed a stop to have a chance to tie.
Burke didn’t give it to them.
“I was waiting to call that timeout, and I just saw some space there,” Beilein said. “And we just decided to go with it, thinking that … we know what to do up three with ten seconds to go, nine seconds to go.”
Burke took Craft off the dribble, went to his right, put it high off the glass and gave Michigan its first victory in seven tries against the Buckeyes.
“I just told the team that we were not going to lose this game,” Burke said. “We’re undefeated at home, we knew we had to protect the house. The whole team was down with it that we weren’t going to lose this game.”
They didn’t, and John Beilein can finally go to sleep.