After nearly being upset over the weekend, the top-ranked Buckeyes look to remain unbeaten Thursday night when they host a Wolverines team seeking three straight Big Ten wins for the first time in more than two years.
Ohio State (22-0, 9-0) received quite a scare Saturday at Northwestern. The Wildcats had a chance to break a 57-all tie late, but David Lighty came up with a clutch steal with 15 seconds remaining. Jared Sullinger then hit one free throw at the other end and Northwestern’s Drew Crawford missed a last-second 3-pointer, as the Buckeyes escaped with a 58-57 victory to match the second-best start in the program’s 112 years.
“Games like this, we find out where our heart’s at, and where are pride is,” said Sullinger, who had a game-high 21 points.
The Buckeyes have had several games lately that have tested their will, with six of their last eight contests decided by five points or fewer.
“They find a way to win. … I give them credit,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. “They’re winning all these close games and that’s usually what good teams do.”
Ohio State proved that with a 68-64 win on Jan. 12 at Michigan. The Buckeyes won despite being held without a field goal for the last 8:36—their last 11 points came on free throws.
The Wolverines, though, managed to do a good job of frustrating Sullinger, who earned his 10th Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors Monday. Sullinger, fifth in the conference with 18.0 points and second with 9.9 rebounds per game, was limited to a league-low 12 points and seven boards while turning the ball over a season-worst six times.
William Buford stepped up with 19 points and nine rebounds to help lead Ohio State to its 12th victory in 14 games against Michigan.
The Buckeyes, winners of 34 of their last 35 home games, have also won six straight over the Wolverines in Columbus since a 61-50 loss on Jan. 15, 2003.
Michigan (13-9, 3-6) is just 1-21 all-time against top-ranked teams, but is feeling confident following last Thursday’s four-point win over then-No. 25 Michigan State and Sunday’s 87-73 victory over Iowa. The Wolverines’ win in East Lansing snapped a six-game losing streak and was their first in six games against ranked opponents this season.
“That felt like a new beginning, but we didn’t want to get too high on ourselves and let this one get away,” said Darius Morris, who had 12 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for the third triple-double in school history Sunday. “Now we can look at the second half of the season as a new start.”
Michigan, which is eighth in the Big Ten, is hoping to win three straight conference games for the first time since Jan. 4-11, 2009.
The Wolverines’ offense was outstanding against the Hawkeyes, with Tim Hardaway Jr. scoring 19 points and Jordan Morgan adding 17. Michigan shot a season-best 58.9 percent and matched its highest point total in a Big Ten game in four seasons under John Beilein, but duplicating that effort against an Ohio State team that is eighth in the nation in scoring defense (57.5 points) likely won’t be easy.