Don’t tell me that regular season games don’t matter in college basketball. If you were watching this game and you weren’t either standing, sitting on the edge of your seat, or in my case, alternating between calisthenics and falling to my knees in despair in my living room, then you don’t get college basketball. Sure, Ohio State and Michigan are both going to the tournament (probably as top four seeds), and there’s a decent chance one of them will come away with the Big Ten tourney title and both may grab a piece of the regular season championship, but don’t tell me there wasn’t plenty on the line in this one. Third-ranked Michigan’s pride, after a loss to Indiana and a loss to these Bucks last time, and three point shooting kicked in and overcame tenth-ranked Ohio State’s defensive prowess as we witnessed one of the signature games of the college basketball season, a 76-74 overtime thriller where Michigan pulled it out at home, in a classic of Aaron Craft give and take.
There will be plenty of time for me to gripe about the end of game officiating in a little bit, because heaven knows I’ve done it before, but I wanted to make sure that I conveyed above all how magnificent of a matchup this was. Between the maize of highlighter yellow, the gray against scarlet on new uniforms, and the soldout Crisler Center crowd, it was a high-profile matchup that delivered on the hype between two schools that just plain respectfully hate each other. Their teams personified that as these two went bucket for bucket nearly the entire game with very few extended runs. There’s still a lot of basketball to be played, and I don’t think these two have seen the last of each other yet either.
Craft gave the Bucks a chance to win this one with his inspired defense on Trey Burke once again as he held him back as much as possible for a future NBA first-round talent. He also took, as in the last two shots of overtime, neither of which turned out to be fantastic looks and both of which ended in a blocked shot and no whistle blown. Meanwhile, the leading scorer in the conference failed to get a single shot up in the extra session.
Much different from their slow-paced gem in Columbus, this one had a much more free-flowing cadence. In Columbus, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas, and Mitch McGary were non-factors, combining for just 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting. At home, they all made their presence known, combining for 14-of-29 shooting for 35 points. The Wolverines hit the Buckeyes with a barrage of three point buckets that rained down throughout the game. Before it was all said and done, 14 trifectas poured through the Michigan baskets in just 24 attempts, compared to a 6-for-20 clip in Columbus three and a half weeks back. Early it was threes in the corner and deep on the wings that broke the Buckeyes’ defensive back, coupled with Mitch McGary’s inside work on quick Michigan ball movement. The freshman big man controlled the interior with 14 points and 6 rebounds.
It was sophomores Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross who gave the Buckeyes a huge boost off the bench and helped them answer back from a 12-0 Michigan run early. Scott forced the issue with transition offense, and as has been the tale for Ohio State all season long, they are such a better team when they push tempo and stay out of the halfcourt offense where defenses can zone them, setup against Craft’s dribble drives, and/or throw double teams at Deshaun Thomas. For Ross, it was a coming out party in a huge game. We’ve seen two or three buckets here and there in conference games, but this was the first game where we saw an engaged Ross for nearly his entire time out there forcing action and making huge plays in crunch time. The sophomore forward finished with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting in 23 minutes, a Big Ten game high for him. None of his buckets were bigger than a putback off his own miss with 1:40 remaining in the second half to tie it at 70. There were a pair of threes made, but it was his work inside the arc that makes him a legit threat moving forward. His finish on a drive with contact swooping through the lane on the right side of the key with under ten minutes to go was a capture of Q’s potential. He also had three physical offensive rebound putbacks, as he totaled five offensive boards for the game.
Tim Hardaway Jr. was really the catalyst for this Wolverine win, though, setting ablaze in the second half, connecting on five second half threes and four within five Michigan possessions as Shannon Scott and Lenzelle Smith Jr. struggled to contain him off of staggered and uneven screens. Hardaway would lead the team with his 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting and 6-of-9 from three point range. Down the stretch, however, it was Burke who heated up as well, creating for his teammates and finding even the slightest bit of space to get shots off against Craft thanks to some punishing picks. Craft made Burke work, but the Columbus product made some hero shots, scoring 16 points on 6-of-12 from the field while dropping eight dimes and turning it over just twice. Near the end of regulation, after a bounce and a tip out bought the Bucks an extended possession, Smith Jr. straddled the line and hit an awkward yet clutch jumper to tie the game. After a timeout, it came down to a 1-4 set with Trey Burke and Aaron Craft locked in battle. A nearly identical scenario played out in Columbus with a Buckeye lead as Burke’s jumper for the win swirled and rattled around the rim before being spit out. This time, a pick from Robinson came and a switch of Thomas onto Burke forced a heavy fadeaway as Thomas put up traffic cones to detour the Michigan point into a deja vu miss and an extra session with the tie score. It was great defense by Thomas, who’s not usually known for his work on that end of the floor.
The extra session saw only six total points scored, with a Trey Burke three pointer 36 seconds in, heavily contested by Craft leaping out with the shot clock expiring ultimately proving to hold up as the decisive basket. The Buckeyes clammed up on offense with Craft taking the load of the burden, which is a known and repetitive issue in crunch time, only for the junior floor general to take the shots himself or generally make decisions that didn’t lead to buckets. All the while, Deshaun Thomas failed to get a shot up for the final seven minutes of the game, despite his 17 points (thought just 6-for-15), while playing all 45 minutes in this one, his third straight game doing so. There were no shots for Ross in the extra session either, but four of the five shots in the period were taken by Craft. There were also two costly turnovers by Amir Williams, guilty of not expecting the ball in the post (and why should he, after all?). Cue the officiating diatribe.
I’ll start by saying that the officials allowed the game to flow as it should for the entirety, calling just 20 fouls for 45 minutes, which is not customary for Big Ten refs. In addition, I’d be inaccurate if I didn’t mention that the Buckeyes caught their fair share of breaks in this one, including a desperation three-pointer by Craft in the first half that counted despite being about a half second after the shot clock expired. It was the Ohio State defense that kept the Bucks in it, getting tough stop after gritty tough stop on the other end giving their offense a chance to answer and keep the hole just one possession deep. With 25 seconds left, Craft picked the pocket of a driving Burke by beating him to the spot, heading the other way before having Burke return the favor with a strip that sent it out of bounds, setting up an OSU final possession. But, as Ohio State set up down two with a chance to force a second OT or win the game, Craft inbounded, took the ball up top, and waited for a Thomas screen to come. Turning the corner, Craft saw daylight in the middle of the floor, but as Stauskas left his man Smith Jr. wide open in the left corner, Craft came to a jump stop and went up for the shot 12-foot shot. Burke came from behind with what amounted to a blocked shot which Michigan corralled only for Robinson III to be fouled by Craft. Here’s the best pause and screenshot I could do of the play.
Here, you can see that Burke definitely interferes with Craft’s shot motion. Burke initially got only the ball, but he follows through into Craft’s shot attempt, and is definitely guilty of a foul. Speaking of the foul on Robinson by Craft, it was a doozy. It was a hard foul, a very hard foul, and in any context but the final moments of a game where a team is frantically trying to foul, I could see it being called a flagrant. Here’s another screen grab.
As you can see here, Craft goes hard after Robinson, but it’s Robinson’s turn and look up the court that turns Craft’s armbar’s target from Robinson’s back/shoulder blade area to the side of his head. You can also see Craft’s arm starts straight up in the air, no elbow to his head, no slap across the head with his hand, just trying to forcibly foul the guy. How many times have you seen an official fail to blow his whistle when the team is desperately trying to stop the clock with a foul? Now, does he follow through too much? Absolutely, and that’s why I would have probably whistled this a flagrant if it wasn’t a must-foul end-of-game scenario. The difference being this type of play isn’t in the normal course of action of a game. Is it commonplace to see this type of contact in FOUL NOW situations? Yes, and it is often correctly not called a flagrant. The officials got this one right in my opinion. To me, adjusting the severity of a foul called taking into account all the information available doesn’t violate the integrity of the game like not calling a foul at all on an offensive drive does. It’s not even close to the same thing. It’s an understanding of the surrounding circumstances.
Then, after a make and a miss at the other end, Craft and Matta neglect to call a timeout, which many scrutinize, but I would actually say is the right call for them (at least initially). Sure, it didn’t work out against Michigan State or last night, but it doesn’t allow the defense to set up and plan to stop a driving player in the open court or key in with more than one guy on Deshaun Thomas. Problem being, we’ve all seen Aaron Craft get tunnel vision in these situations, and it’s exactly what happened here again.
As you can see, Craft gets in a situation where the backcourt duo of Burke and Hardaway are both in his way to the hoop. Thomas is completely uncovered on the right wing, useless thanks to the path that he took up the right side and the one Craft took up the left side of the floor. Ross is open behind Craft, and Smith Jr. is on the left wing being closely guarded. Here is where Matta or Craft needs to call the timeout in your pocket. 3.2 seconds is enough time to set up a decent look, maybe for a 3 to win it.
Instead, this happens…
Burke stays step-in-step with Craft the entire way down the court, relents when Craft goes up, and Hardaway gets his hand on the ball (and Craft’s hand, clearly) to force an altering of the shot that winds up with Craft on the floor. There’s also some obvious bumping here which understandably won’t get called either. But, there it is, the hand of Hardaway reaching across both hands of Craft as he is in the process of shooting the ball. That’s a no-brain whistle in the first 39 minutes of the game. It should be in the final ten seconds of a 45-minute one too.
But, like I said, it was a great game that maybe the Buckeyes didn’t deserve to win anyway. I hope Ohio State sophomores Ross and Williams (9 points, 4 rebounds, 4 blocks) gain confidence from their showings and OSU builds upon the balance that they displayed with four double digit scorers and crisp ball movement in the second half. This Michigan team is really tough, and it hurts mostly because pulling off a win like this in Ann Arbor would have really put OSU in the front of the line in the Big Ten race. Now, they fall back to the 3-loss group with Wisconsin, trailing one-loss Indiana and the two-loss Wolverines and Michigan State. Hopefully, the Bucks can build on some of the positives from the supporting cast in this game and channel that into their next game. It doesn’t get any easier, as the number one team in the country heads to Columbus for another Sunday afternoon showdown. Last time, it was these Wolverines. This time, it’s the slithery, blow-by handshake master Tom Crean and his IU Hoosiers.
(Photo: Tony Ding/AP)