In less than five minutes, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger had Michigan on the ropes.
The bruising 265-pound forward scored eight of Ohio State’s first 10 points to set the tone. Once Michigan started double teaming to compensate, other Buckeyes took advantage.
Sullinger scored 24 points, Deshaun Thomas scored 22 points and William Buford added 10 to help No. 7 Ohio State defeat No. 10 Michigan 77-55 on Saturday in the Big Ten tournament semifinals.
Sullinger sensed he was breaking Michigan’s spirit with his early success.
”When I feel that, I understand that my teammates are going to come down to me,” he said. ”I started passing it out and (Michigan) didn’t know what to do. I think it’s awesome when you can keep a defense on its toes.”
Ohio State’s performance left an impression on Michigan coach John Beilein.
”I’ve seen some really good teams that have played some really good games,” he said. ”That’s as good of a game as I’ve ever seen a college team play.”
The third-seeded Buckeyes (27-6), advanced to play No. 8 Michigan State in the final on Sunday.
Michigan State defeated No. 14 Wisconsin 65-52 in the other semifinal on Saturday to set up what in boxing lingo is a title unification bout.
Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan tied for the conference regular-season title. Michigan has been knocked out of the tournament, and now, just two remain, each with the chance to claim both the regular-season and tournament titles and become an undisputed champion.
There’s more. With No. 3 Kansas and No. 6 Duke already having lost in conference tournaments, the door to a No. 1 seed might be open for the winner of Sunday’s final.
”I really don’t care,” Sullinger said. ”The NCAA — if we’re No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3, we just want to get there. We just want to play.”
The Buckeyes shot 49 percent from the field to earn a shot at their third consecutive Big Ten tournament title.
Tim Hardaway, Jr., led No. 2 seed Michigan with 13 points, but he made just 3-of-10 shots. Trey Burke, Michigan’s other star player, scored five points on 1-for-11 shooting and had eight turnovers while being guarded primarily by Aaron Craft, the conference’s defensive player of the year.
”It was definitely a team effort tonight,” Craft said. ”I tried to not make it about me against him. Everyone did a good job of zoning out, but not giving up easy baskets. He is a great player and fortunately enough today, he didn’t make too many shots.”
The Wolverines (24-9) shot 31 percent from the field, made just 4-of-25 3-pointers and committed 18 turnovers in one of their worst offensive performances of the season. Ohio State coach Thad Matta said Sullinger had a lot to do with that.
”I know everybody’s looking at his 24 points, but I think his defense was as good as it’s been all season,” Matta said.
Ohio State and Michigan, better known for their football rivalry, have ramped up the one on the hardwood in recent years, too. The teams met the previous two years in the Big Ten tournament. Ohio State won 68-61 last year in the semifinals. Evan Turner’s 37-foot jumper as time expired gave the Buckeyes a 69-68 quarterfinal win in 2010.
This year, Ohio State and Michigan split their games during the regular season, setting up expectations for a competitive game on Saturday.
That never materialized because Michigan looked helpless against Sullinger from the start. The Buckeyes led 16-3 early as Michigan missed nine of its first 10 shots.
At one point, Hardaway drew the much bigger and stronger Sullinger, and Sullinger got an easy putback basket. He finished the first half with 16 points, and the Buckeyes led 34-21 at the break. Ohio State shot 52 percent in the first half and held the Wolverines to 26 percent shooting. Hardaway and Burke combined for six points on 1-for-9 shooting in the first 20 minutes.
The Buckeyes continued the onslaught in the second half. Thomas scored in the paint to extend the lead to 41-24, Craft’s 3-pointer pushed the lead to 20 points four minutes into the second half, and Ohio State remained comfortably ahead from there.