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February 6, 2013Ohio State saved its best for Michigan yet again Tuesday night at the Crisler Center, taking the Wolverines to overtime in playing what OSU head coach Thad Matta called one of the Buckeyes' best games of the year. U-M, meanwhile, brought its B-minus game and struggled defensively, riding Tim Hardaway Jr. to a 76-74 win - the type of victory champions sometimes need to grind out.
The Buckeyes made shots they won't make again all year. They got 16 points from sophomore LaQuinton Ross, who hadn't notched even one double figure scoring game in Big Ten play. Center Amir Williams played one of his better games, while his teammates led run after run in forcing Michigan to play catch-up most of the second half.
Championships and key wins are almost always team efforts. Sometimes, though, it's the hot hand that keeps dreams alive. Zack Novak against Michigan State in 2011, Daniel Horton against Illinois, Glen Rice in the entire 1989 NCAA Tournament - Tim Hardaway Jr. added his name to the list of memorable performances with his stretch of five triples in a row in the second half on the way to 23 points on 6-of-9 triples.
"I thought we had to earn almost every basket today," head coach John Beilein said. "Unfortunately, our defense was not as good throughout most of the game. We gave them a lot of easy baskets. When you're giving that up, it usually doesn't bode well.
"Somehow we gutted it out and got the 'W' thanks to a lot of really tough minded young men. Tim's run there got us back. I think it was seven or eight we were down."
Eight at the 13:00 mark, to be precise, before Hardaway went on his tear. His third straight triple gave Michigan a 52-50 lead. OSU, though, seemed to own the glass and got several easy buckets inside to pull ahead.
Statistics don't usually lie, but on Tuesday they didn't seem to tell the whole story. Ohio State's Aaron Craft was lauded for locking up Michigan sophomore point guard Trey Burke, yet Burke finished with 16 points and eight assists to only turnovers. Craft scored 11, but notched only one assist to two turnovers.
The Buckeyes seemed to dominate the glass, but U-M actually outrebounded them 32-30, including 13-9 on the offensive end.
"When we got our offensive rebounds, they blocked it," Beilein said. "When they got theirs, they laid it right back in. Their length and their speed is tough. They've made great improvements in some of their players I've seen, and they obviously hit a great percentage from three, as did we.
"Their quickness is really good, not just on defense but also on offense. Then Ross came in and gave them a big lift. They got to the rim, and we just mixed up some coverages. We were trying to go out and double, hedge hard on Craft so he couldn't get where he wanted, but then we missed some coverages."
They compensated thanks to Hardaway, who also made one of the defensive plays of the game when he blocked Craft's lay-up with one second remaining.
Hardaway didn't win it alone, but the Wolverines wouldn't have won without him Tuesday. His leadership, too, was every bit as important as his triples.
"There were times today we could have quit," Beilein said. "There were times going way back they could have just turned around and said, 'this is too much. They're getting every shot block, they are getting easy baskets, throw in a three with one second to go - it's not our day. We didn't have that at all today.
"We've been seeing [Hardaway's leadership] evolve really since summer. He's a lot of work on his own, with different members of our staff to know he could lead us both in actions and how he presents himself to teammates. We didn't have any answers at that time, and those five in a row - I don't recall that happening too many times. It certainly happened tonight, and he was terrific at it. We couldn't dial up plays fast enough."
And on a night when several things didn't go their way, including a 30-foot triple from Craft that came late and shouldn't have counted, the Wolverines found a way. They might look back on this one as the one that helped lead to a championship as a result.
"Our kids have worked so hard," Beilein said. "They deserve this win. They didn't do everything right, but they deserved it."
"I can't tell you how much I respect how well Ohio played defense," he said. "They just really guard you. Craft is like none other I've ever seen. They also have shot blockers in there as well."
"We were in the bonus and wanted to get that ball into the lane," Beilein said. "We wanted Glenn [Robinson III, 10 points, four rebounds, four assists] to have a sprint screen on him, see if we could get a mismatch and rescreen. We settled there a little. If it goes in, it looks great, but we wanted him to get in there and maybe get fouled."
"Believe me, I asked," Beilein said. "I was more concerned why nobody was guarding him. We just stopped guarding, said he's going to miss and it goes in.
"They made some very good breaks for themselves, and we gave them a few. Two were balls right off our hands for three, or Nik [Stauskas'] throwaway for a three. It's just good to get the win."
"I think he would have helped us a little," Beilein said. "The angles Jon Horford and Mitch McGary are playing are much like angles Jordan was playing way back when. We need him back.
"He practiced a little yesterday, nothing live full court, but we wanted to get him in there. Hopefully he'll be ready to play this weekend, because we'll need him."
Freshman Mitch McGary played admirably in his absence, notching 14 points, six rebounds and four steals.
"He had a second half brilliant pass," Beilein said. "He's one of the big men right now evolving his game to see the floor, rebound, catch and finish and play big. He's been a project with Bacari Alexander and myself since day one.
"He'd doing these little things. Watch his footwork right now; it's a long way from where it was in September. That's really allowing him to use that size."
"While we tried to move forward after that IU game, they didn't like anything about that game. With that crowed right now, it, was going to be tough to beat us today even though we didn't play our best. With this atmosphere, it was exciting to be a coach today. Our players weren't going to let [a loss] happen."