COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Quick thoughts following Ohio State’s biggest win of the season, knocking rival Michigan from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 56-53 victory on Sunday afternoon at Value City Arena.
Overview: There won’t be an ascension to the top of the polls for Michigan this week, and there definitely won’t be an undefeated season.
Ohio State took care of both of those in one fell swoop.
The No. 15 Buckeyes jumped on rival Michigan early, fought off a furious rally and ultimately held on down the stretch for a 56-53 decision, their biggest win of the season and the last anybody in the country will have over an unbeaten squad.
Deshaun Thomas again carried the scoring load for the Buckeyes with a game-high 20 points, but he had no shortage of assistance -- help that had been missing previously in the biggest challenges they had faced so far this season.
Aaron Craft chipped in offensively during an early surge, Sam Thompson delivered a couple of more jaw-dropping dunks and Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams supplied some muscle on the interior as Ohio State finally broke through for a signature victory and looked again like a contender in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines remain one as well, but they couldn’t quite overcome a sloppy start and an off night from guard Trey Burke on the road, and missed a chance to move up to No. 1 in the polls after the other undefeated teams all dropped games leading up to Sunday’s showdown.
Turning point: The massive lead had disappeared to nothing, and a thunderous dunk on the previous possession hadn’t been enough to shake Michigan’s surging confidence.
Another dunk on the next trip was enough to finally turn the tide back Ohio State’s way after seemingly falling asleep coming out of the locker room.
The Buckeyes had led by as many as 21 before Michigan rallied throughout the second half to tie the game at 46. But Ravenel followed Thompson’s rim-rattling slam with one of his own to push Ohio State back on top with just more than six minutes remaining, and with the crowd back on its side, it did just enough to fight off the Wolverines down the stretch -- though a late 3-point attempt from Burke nearly changed all that.
Key player: The reputation as a lockdown defender was already well known, and Craft only added to it by bottling up Burke as the Buckeyes raced out to a double-digit lead in the first half.
But it was Craft’s work on the other end that sent Ohio State on its way to its biggest win of the season, as he sparked the offense with seven points during a 16-0 run that cranked up the volume for a sellout crowd and put the Wolverines on their heels.
The junior point guard has struggled to find consistency with his jumper for much of the season, but he buried a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down and followed that with another jumper and an aggressive drive to the rim. Craft’s contributions provided invaluable diversity for an offense that has been sorely lacking in it against the toughest opponents Ohio State has faced this season, but he took the attack to another level and forced Michigan to account for more than just Thomas on that end of the floor.
Key stat: Burke got a wide-open look on his first trip down the floor and buried it. The Buckeyes wouldn’t let it happen again, and the combination defense of Craft and Shannon Scott on Michigan’s leading scorer made it tough at times for him just to get the ball.
In all he finished just 4-of-13 from the floor, and while he still chipped in 15 points for the Wolverines, they had a hard time generating momentum without him knocking down shots.
Miscellaneous: The Buckeyes have won nine consecutive games in the series at home, and coach Thad Matta improved to 17-3 in his career with the program against Michigan. ... When both teams are ranked, Ohio State owns a 7-3 lead against the Wolverines. ... The Wolverines needed one more victory to set the school record for consecutive wins to open the season, settling for a tie with the 1985-86 squad.
Next up: A tough stretch with three road contests in a four-game stretch wraps up for the Buckeyes on Saturday as they travel to Michigan State for yet another ranked showdown in the Big Ten. Ohio State will be back at home three days later for something of a breather against struggling Iowa.
There’s no letup for the Wolverines, who stay on the road for a tough matchup with Minnesota on Thursday. Michigan will have a week off after that trip before hosting Purdue.