COLUMBUS, Ohio - Michigan had a chance to land its first No. 1 ranking in a generation but had the Ohio State Buckeyes standing in the way. Deshaun Thomas had 20 points on the afternoon as the Buckeyes ran out to a 21-point lead in the first half and held on to a gut-wrenching 56-53 win in front of a sellout crowd at Value City Arena.
No other Buckeye scored in double figures but nine points from Aaron Craft and Sam Thompson each proved to be pivotal as Thad Matta increased his record over the Wolverines to a staggering 17-3 mark.
Columbus native Trey Burke led the Wolverines with a team-high 15 points and saw his potential game winning three-pointer go halfway down and pop back out with 16 seconds to go and the Buckeyes made good at the free throw line to salt the game away.
"I hope we get confidence from this victory moving forward," Matta said after the game. "This game signifies the hallway point of the season but we've still got a lot of games left and have to continue to improve."
After Burke hit the first basket of the day with a three-pointer the Buckeyes went on a 29-5 run in the first 13 minutes of the game to go up 29-8 at the 6:52 mark of the game. The Wolverines shot a dismal 37-percent in the first half and committed nine turnovers. The Buckeyes turned those gifts into 16 points in the first half.
"We made shots and executed really well," Thomas said. "Most importantly we forced them to play defense which is what we really didn't do against Illinois. We held the ball and we were patient with the play."
Craft picked up his second foul shortly after the Buckeyes opened up the 21-point lead and the Wolverines would chip into the lead with a 14-5 run that led to the halftime whistle. The Buckeyes would miss their final four shots from the field in the half (part of six straight misses that wrapped into the second half).
"We said there's only one way we're going to do this," Michigan head coach John Beilein said after the game. "(That is) stop-by-stop, possession-by-possession. We thought we had to be more efficient offensively."
Many fans were ready to see a one-on-one match-up between Burke and Craft and the sophomore guard for the Wolverines didn't disappoint after a quiet first half (five points) as he picked it up with ten points in the second half.
"We were ready," Burke said. "It's a long game. We just had too many turnovers and missed shots."
The Wolverines made their run as the Ohio State offense looked out of sync and closed the game to a one-point game after a Tim Hardaway three point shot. That capped off a 10-0 Michigan run that closed the margin to one point with the Buckeyes clinging to a 44-43 lead.
But momentum swung for a moment back to Ohio State when Shannon Scott found Sam Thompson on a transition alley-oop dunk that brought the house down with a thunderous roar and put the Buckeyes back up by three.
There was still fight left in Michigan and it would draw even with another three pointer, this time by Glen Robinson III to tie things up at 46-all and there was an eerie silence at Value City Arena after many fans remember past games where the Buckeyes fell apart in the second half of games where they ran up big leads.
"We showed toughness and composure today," Thomas said. "They hit some big shots but we had the key rebounds that helped us keep our composure and win the game."
And it was Evan Ravenel who hit those big shots with a pair of buckets to move the Buckeyes back up by four points. Thomas would add a bucket to put the Bucks back up by six.
That didn't mean that Michigan was done yet however and Burke would cut into the lead with a pair of free throws and then after a Buckeye turnover Robinson went in for a dunk off of the Ohio State mistake to cut it back to two.
The scene was set for Burke to spoil the day for the Buckeyes and the Wolverines started their possession with just shy of 30 seconds left and when the ball left Burke's hand it looked like it was going to go down and potentially give Michigan a 53-52 lead. But the basketball gods interceded and force the ball out and the Buckeyes pulled down the board and got fouled and iced the game at the line, even after Burke hit one last three pointer to cut it to three with one second left.
Now the Buckeyes have a "bye" slot in the schedule for the first part of this week as the team gets ready for a road game at Michigan State.
Even with the extra time there won't be much time for celebrating this win but the significance of it isn't lost on the team with Matta now having gone against the Wolverines 20 times and winning 17 of them.
"Being 17-3 is awesome," Craft said. "That Matta is an awesome coach and he does a phenomenal job of getting us ready through practice and especially on game day. That is why he is one of the best coaches in the country."