ANN ARBOR, Mich. - In recent years the Michigan basketball team has had more success against Ohio State than the football team. But with new head coach Brady Hoke in attendance the Wolverines chipped away at a 12 point Ohio State lead late in the game but Aaron Craft free throws with less than 10 seconds left gave the Buckeyes (17-0, 4-0) enough breathing room to get out of Michigan (11-6, 1-3) with a 68-64 win and tie a record that has stood for nearly 20 years.
The win gives the Buckeyes 17 straight wins for the first time since the 1991-92 season, back in the days of Jimmy Jackson who was in the building with the color commentary call for television.
William Buford led the way for Ohio State with 19 points while the Wolverines made life difficult for freshman big man Jared Sullinger holding him to 12 points and seven rebounds before fouling out with 79 seconds to go in the game. Darius Morris led the Wolverines with 18 points.
"It is Ohio State and Michigan and you knew it was going to be... I thought there was a lot of Ohio State people which was great to see," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "You have two really good programs head-to-head in a big time college environment."
There were several thousand empty seats at Crisler Arena but the fans that made their way to the arena were loud and not friendly to the Buckeye cause.
"We figured they were going to be pretty hostile but we came in and we had great composure throughout the whole game," Buford said. "We had a lead but they came back and we kept our composure and won the game."
The Wolverines came out on fire from beyond the arc hitting four early triples and opening up several six point leads over the Buckeyes. Ohio State and Michigan traded the lead during the first half and took a one point lead to the locker room after a DeShaun Thomas bucket with 26 seconds to go in the half.
Sullinger was bulldogged most of the game by the Michigan defense and only had four points in the first half of the game. The freshman star is not going to sneak up on anyone this season and the Buckeyes know that Sully will be a point of focus.
"It was a unique kind of thing," Sullinger said. "They loaded the box on me and it seemed like there was five guys around me and the double team came from the baseline side. There were five yellow jerseys around me and I couldn't find anything."
Sullinger has had a chance to now play on the home floor of teams from the SEC, ACC and Big Ten now and has a respect for the Big Ten.
"The difference between the three conferences is the Big Ten is way more physical," Sullinger added. "The refs let a lot go and it kind of plays in my favor but then again tonight it didn't. It was a great basketball game by Michigan."
When the inside is taken away the Buckeye outside shot has to fall and the Buckeyes were prepared for that shooting 50-percent (7/14) from beyond the arc.
"We kind of expect a little bit of everything and we try to prepare ourselves for everything because we never know who they are going to try and take away at times," Ohio State senior David Lighty said. "Like we always said there are so many weapons on this team that there is not really one person that you can key on and that kind of showed in the first half with Will (Buford) leading us."
Buckeye sharpshooter Jon Diebler hit three of his five attempts but suffered a scary moment when he drew heavy contact from a Michigan defender and spent more time on the floor than Matta or any Buckeye fan would like to see. Buford was there to pick up the slack however.
"Jon's arm is fine, he hyper-extended it," Matta said. "But (Will) kind of took over the load a little bit from Jon's perspective."
Ohio State extended the lead to 12 (53-41) after Aaron Craft drained a triple but the Buckeyes would only hit two more field goals after that point while the Wolverines continued to mix-up the inside and outside game. Morris continued to be hot getting to the rack while Zack Novak did his best from outside.
The Wolverines would close it to a bucket with 22 seconds to go after Novak hit a pair of clutch free throws but the Buckeyes were able to get enough done from the line to keep Michigan an arm's length away despite some key misses from Lighty at the line.
The Buckeyes now sit at 17-0 on the season and more impressively have three wins on the road in conference play to date. Matta made special mention of that after the game especially with the Big Ten seeing several ranked teams going down on the road to date.
"I think these guys continue to grow," Matta said. "I think now after three (road games) they have a pretty good understanding of what this is all about. Hopefully we can, and we will, continue to get better."
The players are aware of the record but are trying to take it all in stride. The Buckeyes will have to get into the territory of 20-plus wins in a row to get into rarified air in the Ohio State record books.
"It is a real honor and I think we have a chance to do some big things this year and if we keep playing hard and keep it up I think we can go pretty far," Buford said.
The quest for 18 tips off Saturday at 5:30 at Value City Arena against a surprising Penn State team who is fresh off of upset wins over Michigan State and Illinois.