COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—Just like their high school days, when Greg Oden wasn’t on the floor then Mike Conley Jr. took over.
Conley Jr. scored a career-high 23 points and when Oden was around he created havoc at the defensive end to lead No. 3 Ohio State past Michigan 76-63 on Tuesday night.
“Mike can take over a game when he wants to,” said Oden, his teammate at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis. “I just sat back and watched and did my part. He can do a lot. He’s a great player.”
Conley was a constant for the Buckeyes (21-3, 9-1 Big Ten) as Oden battled foul trouble and sat out 8 1/2 minutes of the second half.
The freshman point guard hit 9-of-12 shots from the field, including two 3-pointers, and made all three of his foul shots. He also had six assists, one steal and just one turnover in 38 minutes.
“Conley’s outstanding,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “He scores when it’s there, he takes care of the basketball and he keeps everybody happy. He’s tremendous. I thought he was certainly the difference.”
Oden added 15 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots—in addition to altering the trajectory of numerous other shots inside. The Buckeyes totaled 14 blocked shots, one shy of a 27-year-old school record.
“We played aggressive and didn’t get a lot of fouls called, and the guards did a good job funneling to the big guys,” said Oden, who tied his career high with his six blocks. “We just put our hands up.”
Jamar Butler added 11 points for Ohio State, which has won its last eight games overall and its last 23 home games.
Conley and Oden guided Lawrence North to state championships the last three seasons before coming to Ohio State. Their coach, Jack Keefer, always said that his team could win if Oden didn’t have a good game but that might not be true if Conley wasn’t on top of his game.
“He took over that game tonight,” Butler said of Conley.
Conley said when Oden isn’t on the floor he feels compelled to take over more of the offense.
“When he’s out of the game I have to step up my play and do that much more to help the team,” he said. “Everybody realizes that we all have to work that much harder when we don’t have the big man.”
Courtney Sims had 17 points and Dion Harris and Ekpe Udoh 14 apiece for the Wolverines (16-8, 4-5), who have lost four straight.
Ohio State’s fans pointed at Michigan’s bench and chanted “N-I-T! N-I-T!” in the final minute.
A snowstorm that dumped up to 3 inches of snow on the Columbus area brought traffic to a standstill and delayed the arrival of the officials. An arena spokesman said the referees normally arrive 90 minutes before a game but two of the three game officials did not get to the arena until 15 minutes before the tip.
A capacity crowd was expected, but the arena wasn’t half full at the start.
Ahead 33-29 at the half, the Buckeyes got some breathing room when Ivan Harris hit a 3-pointer on their first possession and Conley followed with one from the right corner to push the lead to 10.
Oden picked up his third foul with Ohio State up 41-32 at the 17:20 mark and the Wolverines took advantage when he went to the bench.
Forcing the ball inside and pounding the offensive boards, they cut the lead to 47-43 on a pair of foul shots by Lester Abram.
The Buckeyes bridged the next 8 1/2 minutes with Othello Hunter and Matt Terwilliger on the front line, trying to keep Sims and Udoh from bulling their way to the basket. When Oden returned at the 8:52 mark, the lead was 56-52.
Hunter had five of the Buckeyes’ blocked shots and also had nine rebounds.
While the Wolverines were managing just a free throw over the next 4 minutes, Ron Lewis hit a 3, Oden tossed in a long hook shot and then he and Hunter each blocked shots at the other end. Conley then scored on a drive through traffic and the lead was back to 65-53.
Even Ohio State coach Thad Matta was surprised when he looked at the stat sheet.
“I’m a little bit flabbergasted. I didn’t know he had 23 points,” he said of Conley. “It was kind of a quiet 23.”
Not to Michigan, it wasn’t.