COLUMBUS - With a potential Big Ten Conference title, critical positioning for the conference tournament and NCAA Tournament seedings all on the line, the expectation would be for one of Ohio State or Michigan's stars to shine when the two met yesterday with a week left in the season.
Instead, a couple of role players - guys who work the assembly line - did the major damage that allowed the Buckeyes to blow open a close game midway through the second half and eventually put the Wolverines away 64-54. The Buckeyes now have the best record in the Big Ten after Illinois defeated Iowa 71-59 last night.
Ohio State (21-4, 10-4) led just 44-38 with nine minutes left against Michigan, and starting guards Jamar Butler and Je'Kel Foster were struggling through a miserable shooting day.
But Ivan Harris and Matt Terwilliger came off the bench to hit four jump shots in a minute-and-a-half stretch and give the Buckeyes a 53-41 advantage, and Michigan (18-8, 8-7) never got closer than the final 10-point margin.
"That was probably the lift we needed," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "In both of our games against Michigan, our bench has been the biggest difference."
Butler and Foster were a combined 1-of-11 from the field and totaled seven points in the game, well below their combined 24 points per game average. Michigan's Daniel Horton, who scored a career-high 39 points against Illinois earlier last week, had three at the half and stumbled to score 12 points on 4-of-16 shooting.
Led by Terwilliger, Harris and Ron Lewis, the Buckeyes' subs outscored Michigan's bench 17-9, and were part of a big defensive push that held the Wolverines to 31 points less than they had scored just two weeks ago in a 94-85 Ohio State win in Ann Arbor.
"We felt we had to play much, much better defensively," Matta said.
"We hung with our defense and did a good job of challenging their shots. And really, all three guys off the bench gave us a tremendous lift, knocking down shots, and with big defensive plays."
In front of a sell-out crowd of 18,500 at Value City Arena, the Buckeyes built a seven-point lead 12 minutes into the game when Lewis fed Terence Dials, who led Ohio State with 22 points and 11 rebounds, for a dunk on the break. But the Wolverines stayed close with baskets from Graham Brown and Ron Coleman and were down just five at the half.
After a strong drive by J.J. Sullinger opened the lead to 37-27 with 15:30 to play, Michigan quickly closed to within four. The Wolverines trailed 38-34 after Coleman's basket inside, but a put-back basket by Dials was followed by a pair of perimeter jumpers by Terwilliger, a 6-8 sophomore.
Harris followed by hitting a jump shot on an inbounds play, and then buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put the Buckeyes were up 53-41. Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said his defense focused on other Ohio State players and got stung by Terwilliger and Harris, a 6-7 junior.
"We tried to choose who would shoot the shot, and we were certainly concerned with Butler," Amaker said. "But give Terwilliger credit - he knocked down some shots there, and so did Ivan Harris."
While Butler was bottling up Horton, the Buckeyes forced Horton and Dion Harris, Michigan's starting guards, into 11 turnovers.
"We weren't as strong with the ball as we needed to be," Amaker said, "and they were the aggressor out there and got to the foul line. Both teams struggled offensively in what was not a pretty game by any stretch. The difference was, they were able to get to the foul line."
The Buckeyes went 16-of-22 at the line, while Michigan was 6-of-9. Coleman led Michigan with 13 points, while Courtney Sims added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Sullinger added 13 for the Buckeyes, and was part of the smothering defense that allowed Ohio State to win by 10 while three of its starters (Butler, Foster, Matt Sylvester) went 2-of-17 from the field.
"We always tell the guys, and this is hard for them to understand, but don't tie your offense to your defense," Matta said. "There are going to be games when the shots don't fall, and Michigan is too good for us to try and trade shots with them."
Ohio State has a road game at Northwestern and a home date with Purdue to close out the season.
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.39.96196 -83.00298