Ohio St.-Michigan Preview

Ohio State narrowly escaped with a victory in the Big Ten

tournament quarterfinals.

It had a couple of close calls in the regular season against

Michigan, as well.

The top-ranked Buckeyes look to advance to the tournament

championship game for the fifth time in six years Saturday in

Indianapolis when they face a Wolverines team that needed a furious

comeback to make the semifinals for the first time in seven


Ohio State (30-2) beat Northwestern on Friday to solidify itself

as a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament, while fourth-seeded

Michigan (20-12) defeated Illinois to bolster its chances of making

the field of 68.

Neither win was easy.

The defending tournament champion Buckeyes needed overtime to

defeat the eighth-seeded Wildcats 67-61, and the Wolverines rallied

from 12 down and scored 21 of the game’s final 25 points in a 60-55

win over the Illini.

Ohio State, which has advanced to the tournament championship

game in four of the last five years, was bailed out by Jared

Sullinger and some stingy defense.

Sullinger struggled mightily from the field, missing 10 of 12

shots, but finished 16 of 18 from the foul line. The Big Ten

freshman of the year had 20 points and 18 rebounds – one shy of the

tournament record – and made all 10 of his free throws in


The Buckeyes attempted just two field goals in the extra

session, scoring 12 of their 15 points from the charity stripe.

Their free-throw shooting also proved to be key in their first

meeting of the season with the Wolverines.

In a 68-64 win at Michigan on Jan. 12, Ohio State was held

without a field goal for the last 8:36 – its last 11 points came on

free throws. The Wolverines did a good job of frustrating

Sullinger, limiting him to 12 points and seven boards while forcing

a season-worst six turnovers from the freshman.

Sullinger played much better in Columbus three weeks later,

finishing with 19 points and 15 rebounds, but the Buckeyes trailed

by six points early in the second half before pulling away for a

62-53 victory.

Ohio State has won four straight in the series, which includes a

69-68 victory in last season’s tournament quarterfinals on Evan

Turner’s 37-foot shot at the buzzer.

The Buckeyes advanced Friday despite shooting 32.2 percent to

match their season low.

“Obviously we never got into our flow offensively, and when

shots weren’t falling, I was fine with that,” coach Thad Matta

said. “But hopefully we can shoot the ball a little better


Matta could tolerate the offensive struggles because his defense

played so well. Ohio State, 11th in the nation in scoring defense

at 59.8 points, held the Wildcats to 37.3 percent shooting and

outrebounded them 48-27.

“We’ve just got to keep playing defense like we did (Friday),”

Sullinger said. “Our defense carried us. We didn’t really hit

shots, so we obviously can win without hitting shots and just keep

playing ‘D.'”

Michigan’s defense also stepped up late Friday.

Trailing 51-39 with just over eight minutes remaining, the

Wolverines forced five turnovers and held the Illini to 1-of-8

shooting the rest of the way.

“We just came out and just stayed hungry and just maintained our

focus and poise on the defensive end and the offensive end,”

freshman guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said.

Hardaway finished with 16 points, while Darius Morris scored 17

for the Wolverines, winners of nine of 12.

“We’ve got some confidence going into (Saturday’s) game,”

Michigan guard Zack Novak said. “(The Buckeyes are) having a great

year, got a really good team, but we feel like we’re playing pretty

good right now.”

The Wolverines are in the semifinals for the first time since

2004. They haven’t advanced to the title game since winning the

inaugural Big Ten tournament in 1998.