ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Round 2 goes to Trey Burke.
In college basketball’s game of the year, it was Burke who made the big defensive stop. And he did it against his arch nemesis, Aaron Craft.
Burke committed an untimely turnover in the closing seconds of overtime. But seconds later he got his redemption by blocking Craft’s shot from behind with 10 seconds left. After Glenn Robinson III missed a free throw, Craft raced down court, but this time Tim Hardaway Jr. was there to deny him as time expired, giving Michigan a 76-74 win.
“I jumped out and tried to swipe it,” said Burke, about turning the ball over. “I ran like my life depended on it. I was somehow, someway going to get the ball back. My mindset was just to get a stop.”
Said Hardaway: “It was just trying to will our way to victory. It was the will to win.”
The final play was not without controversy, though. There was contact between Craft and Hardaway, and it left Craft and Ohio State head coach Thad Matta wanting a foul to be called. Even Hardaway said he was surprised there was no call.
“I saw the ball in my face, so I just tried to wrap it up,” Hardaway said. “Probably got his arm or something like that, but like I said, it’s up to the refs to call that call, and they let it go.”
“It is what it is,” Matta said.
“I thought I (got fouled). I didn’t get the call,” Craft said. “I got to the rim, got a layup. You can look back and think of five different things I could have done. In the moment, I’m happy with what I did. We didn’t get it. Gotta move on.”
Ohio State played by far its best game of the season – and it still wasn’t enough. The Buckeyes shot 51.7 percent from the field, including a 59.3 percent showing in the second half. They also made 7 of 16 three-point attempts on the night.
Ohio State’s offense operated at an efficiency level that hasn’t been seen all season. At one point in the second half, the Buckeyes scored on 10 straight possessions. All eight players in the box score tallied points, including LaQuinton Ross, who finished 7-of-10 shooting for 16 points. In the first game against Michigan, Ross played three minutes.
It was a far cry from what the Buckeyes looked like in their last road contest against a ranked opponent, when they fell to Illinois by 19 points.
“I saw some heart. We fought,” Thomas said. “We’re a good team. We showed some stuff I haven’t seen in a long time. All we have to do is keep getting better and better. We just need to get that extra edge and carry it with us. We can play with any team.
“I saw a lot of growth. Compared to the Illinois game to now, there’s a big difference. We grew up. We keep growing each and every day in practice.”
Thomas led 10th-ranked Ohio State with 17 points, but he did so on 15 shots. He mysteriously never touched the ball in overtime.
“I don’t think it was frustrating,” Thomas said. “I learned you have to calm down and do other things in the game of basketball, not just getting touches.”
The Buckeyes fall to 7-3 in the Big Ten, with No. 1 Indiana visiting Columbus on Sunday. Michigan, ranked third, now has a one-game lead on the Buckeyes at 8-2. The Hoosiers are 8-1.
Michigan matched Ohio State’s intensity, giving the rambunctious Crisler Center the feel of a regional final. The Wolverines jumped out to a 10-point first-half lead thanks to a 12-0 run. But Ohio State, having experienced road blues already this season, stayed within itself and played steady the rest of the half, taking a one-point lead into the locker room.
The Buckeyes held an eight-point advantage with 13 minutes left in the game and still led by five with less than six minutes to play. But during the final 13 minutes, Hardaway did his best NBA Jam impersonation, hitting five straight 3s.
“That’s what Timmy is capable of doing,” Burke said. “He’s a high volume shooter. We just wanted to get him the ball.”
Unfortunately for Ohio State, the trend of 30-minute basketball continued Tuesday night.
“That’s been our Achilles heel, not being able to finish games whether they're close or not,” Craft said. “We did the same thing tonight.”
Michigan had a chance to win the game in regulation. In a scene reminiscent of Jan. 13 in Columbus, the ball was in Burke’s hands as the clock wound down.
Said Burke: “Craft came over to me and said, ‘Doesn’t this seem like déjà vu from a couple weeks ago?’ I said, 'yeah.'”
Once again, a three-pointer clanged off the rim – Michigan’s only miss from long range during the second half. Instead of a loss, though, it just signaled overtime.
“You can’t dwell on one play or you’ll continue to mess up on offense or defense,” Burke said. “We had new life. There were five minutes left and it was tied. We were at home, so I thought our chances were good.”
The extra session gave way to tired legs on both ends of the court. After each team played so beautifully for 40 minutes, they combined to make two of 12 shots from the field in overtime. Ohio State didn’t even get on the board until less than a minute remained. The final difference was one three-pointer and one free throw from Michigan.
Hardaway led the Wolverines with 23 points, and Burke finished with 16 points and eight assists.
“The plays they made were tremendous plays,” Matta said. “We needed something to kind of make our own luck there down the stretch. This league is about getting knocked down and getting back up again.”
There is little choice for Ohio State, with a second-half Big Ten slate that features the upper-half almost exclusively. Why not start off with the top-ranked team in the country?
First, though, there will be a long night that’s short on sleep and heavy on what-ifs.
“It’s very unfortunate that there had to be a winner and loser,” Craft said.