Originally Published: February 5, 2013

Michigan's Burke Wins Latest Battle With Craft

By Jason King

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The score was tied and 21 seconds remained in regulation as the top two point guards in the Big Ten -- and maybe even the country -- passed each other on the court at Crisler Arena.

Michigan's Trey Burke and Ohio State's Aaron Craft couldn't help but smile.

A timeout had just ended, and beats from Eminem were ping-ponging throughout the building as 12,693 fans in mustard-colored shirts shrieked like Janet Leigh. Somehow, Craft managed to talk above the noise.

"Doesn't it feel like we were just here, like we've done this before?" Craft said to Burke. "Doesn't this feel like déjà vu?"

What happened next was indeed a moment college basketball fans had witnessed before.

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Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsOhio natives Trey Burke and Aaron Craft put on another show Tuesday night.

A late-game duel between Craft and Burke to determine the victor in yet another Buckeyes-Wolverines classic. And the Big Ten illustrating -- just as it has night after night all season -- why it's being regarded as one of the toughest, most competitive basketball conferences in recent memory.

Nearly a month after losing to Craft and Ohio State in Columbus, Burke got the best of his nemesis in Michigan's 76-74 overtime victory Tuesday.

Two big plays by Burke helped decide the game.

Moments after Craft stole the ball from him as he attempted to penetrate, Burke chased down the Buckeyes guard on the other end of the court and stripped him as he attempted a layup.

"I was going to get it back," Burke said. "I ran like my life was depending on it. I was going to get it back."

Ohio State retained possession after the ball sailed out of bounds, but Burke came up big again when he blocked a 10-foot jumper by Craft with 9 ticks remaining and Michigan leading 75-74.

Craft had one last chance after Michigan's Glenn Robinson III split a pair of free throws with 7 seconds left. The ball ended up in Craft's hands, but his layup attempt at the buzzer was blocked by Tim Hardaway Jr.

"There was a little bit of contact," said Craft, who fell to the ground. "But they didn't call it, so I guess it wasn't a foul."

Instead, the play marked the end of a game that featured five ties, nine lead changes, 21 3-pointers and some clutch defensive play by both teams.

At 8-2, the third-ranked Wolverines trail No. 1 Indiana (8-1) by a half-game in the Big Ten standings. Ohio State is now 7-3 in league play. Five conference schools are ranked, and that doesn't include Wisconsin, which is receiving votes.

A continuous string of close Big Ten contests with thrilling finishes has been one of the few things college basketball fans can count on during an otherwise zany, unpredictable 2012-13 season. If March is anything close to this exciting then we could be in for one of the most entertaining NCAA tournaments in years.

Heck, winning this season's Big Ten championship might be more impressive than winning the national title.

"This league," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said, "is about getting knocked down and getting back up again."

That's exactly what Michigan did just three days after losing to Indiana 81-73 in Bloomington. Analysts pegged that tilt as the "game of the year" in college basketball, a tag that lasted all of 72 hours until being replaced by Tuesday's nail-biter.

The Wolverines trailed by as many as eight points after intermission before battling back in front of a crowd that included thousands of students who had shivered outside since 10 a.m. waiting for the building to open.

Hardaway Jr. -- the son of the former NBA all-star -- keyed Michigan's comeback with five 3-pointers in the second half. He finished with a game-high 23 points along with the huge block on Craft at the buzzer.

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Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesTim Hardaway Jr. led Michigan with 23 points.

"We couldn't dial up plays [for him] fast enough," Michigan coach John Beilein said.

In the end, though, the biggest spotlight was reserved for Craft, who is regarded as the country's top defensive guard, and Burke, the Ohio native who was introduced by the public address announcer as "The Pride of Columbus, Ohio" as he took the court against his hometown school.

"It's always like this when we play," said Craft, who is 3-2 against Burke the past two seasons. "I know he's going to live up to the moment, and I try to do the same."

Burke struggled in his previous two matchups against Craft. He was just 1-for-11 from the field in last season's loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament. And last month he made just 4 of his 14 field goal attempts during a loss in which the Wolverines trailed by as many as 21 points before eventually losing by three.

"I love playing against Craft," Burke said. "He's a guy that makes me work. It's always a battle. He's one of the top defenders in the country. You have to give credit where credit is due."

Tuesday was a different story.

Burke finished with 18 points and also dished out eight assists. He had a chance to win the game in regulation shortly after his brief chat with Craft coming out of the timeout and the score tied 72-72. But Burke's step-back 3-pointer was off the mark, and the game went to overtime.

A month ago in Columbus, Burke missed a similar shot in the waning seconds of Michigan's 56-53 loss -- but this time he had a chance to redeem himself in the extra period, which opened, fittingly, with Burke hitting a 3-pointer.

He then came up with the two big defensive plays (the strip and the block) on Craft, whose final stat line included 11 points and three steals.

Craft and Burke -- who played for the same AAU program -- hugged in the postgame handshake line before retreating to their locker rooms.

"You were watching two of the finest point guards in America playing against each other," Beilein said. "They went at it. They give it their all every time. There was no stopping them. That was a great battle."

The only question now is whether there will be an encore.

Perhaps it will happen in the Big Ten tournament.

Or maybe Ohio State and Michigan will meet on college basketball's biggest stage: the Final Four. If and when it happens, you can bet that Craft and Burke will be guarding each other and battling it out at the end, making plays when it matters most.

A déjà vu moment once again.


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