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Published: Monday, 3/1/2004

Struggling UM still has talent to handle OSU

ANN ARBOR - They just don't make Ohio State-Michigan basketball games the way they used to.

Instead of the Buckeyes and Wolverines duking it out for the Big Ten title in a clash of marquee players, we got two struggling teams trying to catch lightning-in-a-bottle and hoping to ride a wave of momentum into the postseason.

Michigan, behind the long-range shooting of sophomore Lester Abram, the all-around play of sophomore Daniel Horton and the rebounding and shot-blocking of freshman Brent Petway, won easily, and handily, 75-64 yesterday at Crisler Arena.

Michigan's superior talent and depth eventually unraveled the Buckeyes, who led 17-15 and never again. Of even greater importance to Michigan, however, was whether the emotionally drained Wolverines could recover from a devastating home loss to Michigan State last Tuesday.

UM coach Tommy Amaker said the Wolverines were ripe to be beaten. From the tone of relief in his voice, it sounded like he may have underestimated his players.

“We could see some of the lingering effects early on [yesterday],” said Amaker. “We talked a lot about the loss to Michigan State and how hard it was to bounce back. I give credit to our guys to be able to battle through.”

You've heard it again and again: Michigan (16-9, 7-7 in the Big Ten) just isn't ready yet.

For all of the Wolverines' talent, most of it young and inexperienced, at some point all that potential has to produce something special.

UM's top three scorers yesterday shot a combined 16 of 26 from the field. Abram led the way with 20 points, followed by senior Bernard Robinson Jr. with 13 points in his final regular season home game and Petway with 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

Michigan suffocated the Buckeyes with defense.

The Wolverines' end-to-end pressure took the visitors out of their offensive rhythm. Horton's ball-hawking gave OSU's Brandon Fuss-Cheatham (five points, five assists, five turnovers) little room to breathe.

In addition to his great floor play (six assists) and defense (two steals), Horton is an excellent free throw shooter (8 of 10 from the line).

Tony Stockman scored a game-high 22 points for the Buckeyes, who wanted to force-feed the ball inside to Terence Dials (13 points) and Velimir Radinovic (11 points, seven rebounds), but couldn't.

“We struggle when teams get into us to get into our offense,” said Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien.

Yes, while watching the Buckeyes labor to run any semblance of a set offense, there was a thought or two about the game plan. It was working, but isn't now, so why not do something different?

And the answer is:

“They may be the most talented and athletic team in the conference,” O'Brien said of the Wolverines. “We are not those things and that hurt us today.”

Frankly speaking, the Buckeyes (13-14, 5-9) weren't talented enough to compete or make adjustments against a Michigan team still finding its way.

That may be why Crisler Arena wasn't close to capacity yesterday for a game that once turned heads in the Big Ten.



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