ANN ARBOR, Mich. — John Beilein isn’t a big fan of birthdays.
That didn’t stop Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. from getting him one heck of a gift for No. 60.
Burke and Hardaway combined for 39 points and, more importantly, a pair of game-clinching blocked shots in the final 10 seconds as No. 3 Michigan rallied for a 76-74 overtime win over 10th-ranked Ohio State on a wild Tuesday night at the Crisler Center.
“It’s after midnight, so thank God my birthday is over,” Beilein said. “I always seem to have stressful birthdays, but this one was worse than most. I guess I got a nice present in the end, though.”
The Wolverines bounced back from Saturday’s 81-73 loss at Indiana, which cost them their top ranking, and avenged their first loss, on Jan. 13 at Columbus. Michigan also kept its Big Ten title hopes alive. A second loss to Ohio State would have meant that the Wolverines (21-2, 8-2) would have to finish 8-0 to get even a share of the conference championship, and that would be tough with games at Wisconsin and Michigan State coming up, as well as a season-ending home showdown with No. 1 Indiana.
“We had the mentality that we were not going to lose this game,” said Hardaway, who had 23 points and hit 6 of 9 on 3-pointers. “That’s how we have to approach games, especially after they beat us in Columbus.”
For Ohio State, which fell to 1-5 against ranked teams, things get even tougher. The Buckeyes (17-5, 7-3) host the top-ranked Hoosiers on Saturday.
“We fought and we showed a lot of heart tonight, but we came up short,” said Ohio State star Deshaun Thomas, who had a team-high 17 points. “If we play like this against Indiana, we’ll have a shot, but we have to have this much fight and show this much guts. We haven’t done that a few times this year, but we did it tonight, and we have to do it against Indiana.”
The Wolverines, who fell behind early in their two losses, jumped out to a quick 18-8 lead Tuesday night. That sent a sold-out, maize-clad crowd into a frenzy, but it was too good to last.
The Buckeyes defense took over the game, with point guard Aaron Craft frustrating Burke as he did in their previous matchup, actually outplaying the All-American guard for a significant stretch. Michigan was trailing 31-30 at halftime and 48-40 with 13 minutes to play, as Burke struggled to get anything going in the halfcourt offense.
“I cannot begin to tell you how much I respect the way Ohio plays defense, and it starts with Aaron Craft,” Beilein said. “He is like nothing I have ever seen at this level.”
Glenn Robinson III started the rally with a three-point play, and Hardaway followed with a 3-pointer. And then a second. And a third. And a fourth.
In less than four minutes, Michigan had erased the deficit and taken the lead.
“Tim pretty much took over the game, and that’s how we had a chance to win,” Beilein said. “After he did that, it turned into a battle.”
The main combatants were Burke and Craft. For the last eight minutes of regulation and the five minutes of overtime, they faced each other with the ball on every possession.
“There might not be two better point guards in the country,” Beilein said. “That’s a great, great matchup, and I know it means even more to Trey because he’s from Columbus.”
The teams traded baskets down the stretch, and OSU’s Lenzelle Smith Jr. tied the game at 72 on a tough jumper with 28 seconds left. Burke missed a difficult step-back 3-pointer at the buzzer — Michigan’s only miss on nine 3-point tries in the second half — but hit one on the first possession of overtime.
That’s when things went terribly wrong for Ohio State. On their first four possessions of overtime, they turned the ball over three times and missed a shot on the fourth. Their defense kept getting stops, but with a minute left, they still trailed by three.
“We’ve had trouble finishing games all season,” Craft said. “We played pretty well at the end of regulation, but we didn’t get the game finished, and then we turned the ball over three times in overtime. You can’t do that against anyone, and we did it at Michigan.”
Craft wasn’t done, though. He got the Buckeyes within 75-74 on a layup with 55 seconds left, then stripped Burke at the other end. He raced to the basket, but Burke got back in time to strip the ball out of bounds with 20 seconds to play.
“I just dribbled too much, but when he took off, I knew I had to find a way to get the ball back,” Burke said. “I thought I might be able to get a steal, but at least I didn’t let him get off a shot.”
Craft got a step on Burke and pulled up for a jumper in the lane with 10 seconds left, but Burke recovered to block the shot from behind.
“He came off the screen and got to the lane, and I could see he was going to pull up and shoot,” Burke said. “I just swept it out of his hand as he went up.”
Robinson grabbed the ball and was fouled. He made one, giving Michigan a two-point lead, then missed the second. OSU rebounded, and Craft started up the court at top speed.
“There were about five different things I could have done on that play, but I saw I could get to the rim,” Craft said. “I figured I could either get a layup or get to the line with a chance to tie the game.”
But Craft couldn’t get loose of Burke’s defense, and as he went up for a layup in traffic, Hardaway reached across and smothered the shot as time ran out to clinch the win.
“I was either going to get the block or put him on the line to tie the game. I wasn’t going to let him get off a shot,” Hardaway said. “I thought they might call it, but I’m not a ref. It was questionable.”
Craft wasn’t sure, either.
“I don’t know,” he said. “There was some contact, but they didn’t call anything, so I guess it wasn’t a foul.”
Just as big of a question was Ohio State’s inability to get the ball to Thomas. He barely touched the ball in overtime and never took a shot.
“It was an odd overtime,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “We were trying to attack the basket, and we didn’t get Deshaun into that.”
Thomas agreed, saying Michigan didn’t do anything extra to stop him in overtime.
“They played straight-up defense, so it wasn’t like they changed up on me,” he said. “My teammates were just getting open looks, and I trust them to make those shots.”
Craft, who made 4 of 8 shots during regulation, missed 3 of 4 in OT and still was shaking his head during postgame interviews.
“It’s very unfair that someone had to lose this game,” said Craft, who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds but just one assist. “This was a great game between two great teams.”
For Beilein, there was a big sigh of relief, and the knowledge that his Wolverines are still in good shape in the title race going into Madison and East Lansing.
“That was a great game of basketball,” Beilein said. “We didn’t play our best, but we somehow gutted that out and got the win. I can’t tell you how important it is to see our team fight like that when things weren’t always easy. We were down eight at one point, and they were getting all the breaks.
“In the past, I’ve had teams that would have given up and walked away at that point. This team didn’t do that.”
As a result, and thanks to the 9 p.m. start and extra five minutes, Beilein didn’t have to face any more birthday stress.
“It’s tomorrow,” he said on his way out the door. “Time to enjoy this.”