'Another step in the right direction': Believe? Michigan basketball sends message with 56-51 win over No. 6 Ohio State
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
Updated 12:19 a.m.
Whether the Michigan basketball program is officially "back" may be something still left up for debate.
But the Wolverines' answer to any remaining doubters Saturday was rather clear.
Do you believe in us yet?
The 17th-ranked Wolverines got 17 points and five assists from freshman point guard Trey Burke and a double-double from Jordan Morgan in a 56-51 triumph over No. 6 Ohio State in front of a frenzied sellout Crisler Center crowd.
"Our seniors, we don't have the greatest record against them," Michigan senior co-captain Zack Novak said. "These games have always been close, but they've always found a way to win at the end.
"It's just another step in the right direction."
The victory keeps Michigan (20-7, 10-4 Big Ten) unbeaten at home this season, moving the Wolverines to 15-0, and snaps a six-game losing streak against Ohio State (22-5, 10-4).
The last Michigan team to score 20 wins in a season faster than the 2011-12 version was the 1993-94 team, which featured Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson and made an Elite Eight appearance.
Should the Wolverines score a senior night win over Purdue next Saturday, it'll be the first time a Michigan team finishes the regular season with a perfect home record since the 1976-77 Big Ten-title squad went 14-0 at Crisler Arena.
More importantly, Michigan now pulls even with Ohio State for second-place in the conference, behind league-leading Michigan State.
"We're in position to be in position," Michigan sophomore wing Tim Hardaway Jr. said. "We can't take this for granted."
Morgan turned in perhaps his best performance at Michigan, putting up 11 points and 11 rebounds against Ohio State All-American Jared Sullinger.
Hardaway was the other Wolverine in double-figures, finishing with 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting.
Ohio State sophomore Deshaun Thomas finished with a game-high 25 points to go along with 13 rebounds, while Sullinger finished with 14 points and eight boards.
"That was why we're in the weight room," said Michigan coach John Beilein, whose team was out-rebounded by nine, but outscored OSU by two in the paint. "(Morgan) gets a double-double, we didn't double the whole time on Sullinger, we varied our action with him and that had a lot to do with confidence in what Jordan could do."
The game was highlighted by the loudest and most frenzied home crowd Michigan has played in front of this season. The sellout group of maize-clad, pompom-waving fans charged the building long before tip.
With Michigan football quarterback Denard Robinson once again leading cheers from the student section, and football coach Brady Hoke leading a rendition of "The Victors" on the floor after the first media timeout, the Wolverines responded on the floor -- moving in front by seven after a pair of Hardaway free throws midway through the half.
The lead stayed at seven after a Burke jumper with 40 seconds to go, but Thomas cut Michigan's lead to 25-20 at the break with a tip-in just before the horn.
Both teams went through field goal droughts of at least five minutes before the break, and neither entered the locker room shooting better than 40 percent from the floor.
Michigan seized control early in the second, getting two thunderous one-handed jams from Morgan before two Burke foul shots gave Michigan its largest lead, 35-25, with 14:40 to go.
Ohio State battled back. Led by the outside play of Thomas and the inside play of Sullinger, the Buckeyes clawed within three points when a pair of Sullinger foul shots made it 48-45 with less than five minutes remaining.
The Buckeyes stayed within three down to the wire, until Burke beat Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft off the dribble for a soaring layup, putting the Wolverines up five with 1:14 left.
"When there's like a minute left and we're up five, I'm thinking, 'We're getting this done,'" Novak said. "Then Trey just stepped up and made huge plays.
"It was one we had to have."
On the ensuing possession, Burke combined with Morgan to block a Craft layup attempt -- the ball was then ruled out of bounds off Craft, giving Michigan possession.
Burke then missed the front end of a one-and-one, and a pair of Craft foul shots made it a three-point game again with 42.5 to play.
But Burke eventually sealed the deal, putting in a runner off the glass with less than 15 seconds to go to reclaim a five-point edge for the Wolverines.
Ohio State had no answer.
The Wolverines finished 22-for-47 from the floor, holding Ohio State to just 19-of-49 shooting (38.8 percent).
Michigan finished the game with five charges drawn, and outside of Sullinger and Thomas, Ohio State got just 12 points from the rest of its roster.
For the Wolverines, who visit Northwestern on Tuesday (8 p.m., BTN), the win kept the team's hopes of a possible Big Ten title alive, got Novak and Douglass over the hump against Ohio State and ended a lengthy stretch of national attention courtesy of ESPN's College GameDay.
In short, it was a banner day for the surging Michigan basketball program.
"We're getting this thing going in the right direction," Beilein said. "When you're rebuilding programs there's a lot of small moments, a lot of small victories.
"Today was one."
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