COLUMBUS – Michigan coach Tommy Amaker’s message is simple: success all begins with defense.
Michigan listened to this message, and played one of the best defensive halves it has played this entire season, and probably in several seasons. But most importantly, this effort came after one of the toughest halves of the year, in which senior LaVell Blanchard was forced to sit before any points had even been scored because of foul trouble.
Michigan outscored Ohio State 16-4 in the final eight minutes of the game, and allowed just one field goal in that time. The Wolverines displayed the kind of aggressiveness, tenacity and poise on defense that they haven’t shown in years – especially away from Crisler Arena.
With just under eight minutes to play and the Wolverines trailing by one, they buckled down. All of a sudden, Michigan was making stops and creating steals that it could only manage to do in the first half by fouling. It was a compete reversal.
Amaker said Michigan was able to stay active, stay in front of people and take advantage of Ohio State’s miscues, which is what most good teams do to win.
“Tough teams win on the road,” Amaker said. “After the first half, we didn’t hold our head down. Instead, we went out and made a lot of hustle plays, and that was the difference in the game.”
Hustle was the key for Michigan. Daniel Horton chased down a loose ball, kept it from going out of bounds, then found an open spot and hit a 3-pointer. Freshman Chris Hunter’s block on a 3-pointer by Ohio State’s Brent Darby ignited a key fast break opportunity for the Wolverines. It was a team effort for Michigan, inside and outside.
The key matchup for the night was Michigan junior Bernard Robinson on Darby. Although Darby seemed to be having a rare off-night, shooting just 2-of-12 from the field, Robinson’s intense defense played a crucial role in throwing Darby way out of his rhythm.
“We wanted to put Robinson on Darby because he is our best perimeter defender,” Amaker said.
Overall, the Wolverines held the Buckeyes to 29 percent from the floor in the second half and just 25 percent for the game.
As Amaker said, they played a tough opponent, but tough teams win on the road.
But how, and when, did this Michigan team become tough enough to beat the defending conference champions away from home and win its 10th consecutive game? Where did this toughness come from?
“It comes from within ourselves,” Michigan sophomore Chuck Bailey said.
Hopefully, for the Wolverines, there’s more where that came from.