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March 12, 2011
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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Jared Sullinger received some advice from William Buford when first arriving at Ohio State.
"He told me never to make him angry," Sullinger said. "We did once and I'll tell you we never did again."
Michigan wasn't fortunate enough to have that advice in its 68-61 loss to top-seeded Ohio State (31-2) in the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament Saturday.
With just under eight minutes remaining in the game, Michigan's Jordan Morgan had grabbed Sullinger's foot after a physical play on the floor that had caused the Wolverine to fall to the ground.
After a game where Buford felt Michigan was repeatedly fouling Sullinger and "getting away with it," the junior guard had seen enough. In effort to defend the freshman big man, a verbal confrontation that almost turned physical had broken out.
"You just get tired of it every now and then. They don't always need to do things like that to him. I just had seen enough," said Buford, who finished the game with 14 points. "That kind of ticked me off. It made me a little mad. I am not going to lie. It made me want to play a little more aggressively."
That's about the time where Michigan saw an otherwise close game get out of hand, quickly. Buford was struggling from the floor for the most part before the scuffle had occurred, but came out after the timeout and hit his next three shot attempts from the floor.
Buford's shots help Ohio State go on a 16-0 run down the stretch of the second half and extend a lead that was once as little as two points to 18. The burst by the Buckeyes now has Ohio State in its fourth conference tournament championship game in as many years.
"You can thank William Buford for that one, he had my back," said Sullinger, who finished the game with 14 points and 13 rebounds. "If you make him mad, shots are going to fall. And they did. I guess to him everyone is always picking on me and he didn't want to have it happen anymore. Today he snapped."
Ohio State seemed destined in the first half to play its second close game with Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament as many years, as both of the Buckeyes' all-Big Ten defenders Aaron Craft and David Lighty got in early foul trouble.
Despite being down by two when Craft took the bench and Lighty joining him just two minutes later, Ohio State got a boost from freshmen Deshaun Thomas and Jordan Sibert.
Ohio State hasn't gone to its bench much in the first half - particularly with Sibert getting time in the game's first 20 minutes - but the Buckeyes gained six points on the Wolverines with the two freshmen on the floor before opening up a 31-27 lead at halftime.
Thomas finished the game with nine points and Sibert had a two-handed slam on a breakaway off the steal in the first half, giving Ohio State some situational practice in a tournament atmosphere should the Buckeyes face early foul trouble in the Big Dance.
"Those guys did a great job," said Ohio State head coach Thad Matta. "I know Deshaun has played a lot more throughout the course of the season, but both continue to work hard in practice and get the job done. This was an opportunity for them and I was very pleased with what they brought to the table."
After a poor shooting day in Ohio State's quarterfinals win over Northwestern, Jon Diebler found his stroke in the first half. The senior guard, who has continued to show an effort to get to the basket and score in a variety of different ways, paced the Buckeyes with a game-high 16 points.
"I think things just really opened up, especially the driving lanes," said Diebler, who made 3-of-8 attempts from beyond the arc. "You know, a lot of teams, coach told me, especially them, they were going to stay home when I was driving, so I was just fortunate enough to finish at the basket."
It was the second-consecutive season in which Ohio State beat Michigan in the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament. A year ago, the Buckeyes topped the Wolverines off after former guard Evan Turner hit a buzzer-beater from nearly mid-court as time expired to send Ohio State to the 1-point victory.
In 11 years of head coaching Matta's teams have advanced to the conference tournament finals eight times.
"It was a big win for us and we just want to keep piling them up," Thomas said. "I am really happy we could get this win and keep playing."