COLUMBUS – At halftime of Ohio State’s 81-60 win over No. 15 Indiana last weekend, the pride of Buckeye nation – the NCAA football national title trophy – was brought out as the 2002 Tournament championship banner was unfurled, sending the Value City Arena crowd into a frenzy and propelling Ohio State to victory.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, no motivational tactic could lift them to a win over Michigan last night.
The Wolverines recovered from first half struggles to defeat the defending Big Ten champions 61-50 and extend their winning streak to 10 games.
For the first eight minutes of the contest, it appeared the Buckeyes had kept their momentum going from the weekend as they jumped out to a 15-7 lead.
Hurting the Wolverines even more than the eight-point deficit was the fact that LaVell Blanchard had picked up two fouls in a 30-second span, sending him to the bench after 1:30 of play.
Michigan’s foul trouble would only worsen from there, as its players picked up seven fouls in eight minutes.
By the end of the half, four Michigan starters had two fouls apiece. But the Wolverines fought back by tightening up on defense and taking what opportunities they could get from Ohio State.
Michigan cut the lead to one just before the intermission on a shot from Graham Brown, but surrendered an uncontested layup to Ohio State guard Brent Darby to end the half, making it a 32-29 Buckeyes’ lead at the break.
“We went with different options,” Amaker said. “You go in with a game plan and sometimes things go in a different way, and changing defenses gave us the confidence that we could fight through and make a game of it.”
Darby, who was averaging 18.8 points per game, scalded the Wolverines for 10 in the first half. Amaker elected to use a series of switching defenses to guard Darby, but primarily defended him with junior Bernard Robinson in hopes of wearing him down.
The strategy would work, as Michigan held Darby to two points and three assists in the second half.
“We wanted to keep him on his heels instead of him keeping us on ours,” Robinson said. “Force him to go one way, or take a 3-point shot, make him dribble a little and slow him down. In the second half, we moved well and made it difficult for him.”
The Wolverines started the second half as poorly as the first, giving up four quick points and allowing the Buckeyes to extend their halftime lead to seven. But a 12-point run, highlighted by a NBA range 3-pointer from Blanchard, gave Michigan its first lead since the opening minutes of the game.
Michigan had one of its best defensive efforts in the post this season, often forcing Ohio State’s big men to kick the ball out to a guard.
“We just had better positioning,” freshman center Chris Hunter said. “We weren’t getting on guys’ hips so that they could set us up and force us to play a little more up and down the line.”