The Buckeyes earned some doubters with their early season play after losing to each of their first three ranked opponents.
But Sunday, No. 15 Ohio State – at least temporarily – silenced those doubters while simultaneously bringing to life a roaring crowd at the Schottenstein Center, some of which had been camping out for the game since Friday.
The Buckeyes’ 56-53 victory against No. 2 Michigan, who with a win against OSU would have been crowned the top team in the land, gave OSU its first win over a ranked team this season.
All of that though, was almost taken away when Player of the Year candidate and Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke’s 3-pointer rimmed out with 14 seconds left in the game.
The Buckeye lead was just two at the time – down from the 21-point cushion they had earlier in the game – and free throws secured the victory for the home team.
The performance was a stark contrast to OSU’s previous contests against No. 1 Duke, No. 6 Kansas and No. 12 Illinois when the Buckeyes never shot better than 35 percent and struggled to find an offensive rhythm outside of junior forward Deshaun Thomas.
Against Michigan, it was far more than Thomas that helped the Buckeyes jump out to a commanding 20-point advantage about 10 minutes into the first half.
Junior guard Aaron Craft, who has been criticized for a lack of production on the offensive end, attacked the basket early, scoring from both the outside and in. He stepped into a three in the game’s opening minutes and followed it up by twice slicing to the basket. He finished with nine points and four assists.
Sophomore forward Sam Thompson added a spark as well, equaling his season average of seven points before the nine minute mark of the first half.
Then there was Thomas, who continued his high-level of offensive play this season, with 20 points including two 3-pointers in the first half – one of which fueled him and many of his teammates to pound their chests on the way down court.
The biggest contributor of all though, might have been the Buckeye defense, which smothered the Wolverines from the opening tip.
Led by Craft, OSU forced five turnovers in the first eight minutes and nine by halftime, which led to 16 OSU points.
By the time the teams headed into the locker room for intermission, Michigan had chipped away at the big lead, but the Buckeyes still held a 34-22 advantage.
That lead would shrink to eight early in the second half as the Wolverines threw at least three different defensive looks at the Buckeyes in the period.
The switches appeared to slow the Buckeye offense down, but Michigan’s attack wasn’t faring much better. With 10:35 left in the game Michigan had outscored OSU 9-8.
It wouldn’t take long for the game’s pace to quicken, though.
Out of a media timeout Thomas grabbed Craft’s missed jumper and dunked it in a forest of Wolverine defenders. The play gave OSU an 11-point lead, but Michigan, led by junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr., would respond by scoring the next 10 points to cut the lead to one.
The Buckeyes ended the streak when sophomore guard Shannon Scott lobbed a pass to Thompson, who grabbed the ball with one hand in midair and threw it down.
Michigan was not finished, though. A 3-pointer on the following possession knotted the score at 46 with 5:59 remaining.
But it was OSU that would write the game’s final chapter.
Senior forward Evan Ravenel scored back-to-back buckets and Thomas added another to extend OSU’s lead to six.
Michigan had a chance to take the lead when it called timeout down two points with 30 seconds left, but Burke’s misfire and crucial free throws from junior guards Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Craft sealed the win.
The Buckeyes are now 13-3 on the year and Michigan drops to 16-1.
OSU is set to next play Michigan State Saturday in East Lansing.