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January 13, 2013

Slow start dooms the Wolverines

About 10 minutes before tipoff of Ohio State's 56-53 win over Michigan, the Wolverines couldn't ask for much more.

They were the No. 2 team in the country, surely on their way to the top-ranked spot after Duke lost to North Carolina State Saturday.

They didn't know the dangers of playing away from Crisler Arena, having dominated teams like Bradley and Northwestern in their own gyms. In fact, the Wolverines had yet to trail any opponent - home or away - by more than seven points, and had led wire-to-wire in nine games thus far.

So they were in unchartered waters - especially freshmen Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary, who have known nothing but sunny skies and great big blowouts since they first donned the maize and blue - when the Buckeyes steamrolled them out of the gate.

Fourteen minutes into a crucial road game against archrival Ohio State, Michigan was already staring up at a 29-8 deficit.

"We were ready," sophomore point guard Trey Burke said. "But it was a road game. We knew it was going to be tough and the energy was going to be high. We had too many turnovers in the beginning and a couple forced shots, and they made us pay."

Michigan wanted to focus the majority of its defensive energy toward the perimeter, including dangerous Ohio State guards Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft.

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But if there has been a weakness on this team through the first half of the season, it has been interior defense - and it once again cost the Wolverines in the early going. Seeing Michigan's attention on the guards, the Buckeyes began working the ball inward.

Ohio State worked the ball inside early and often, which helped build the gigantic lead that the Wolverines tried - and failed - to come back from for the next 26 minutes.

"I think we tried to hug the perimeters too much and tried to take away their perimeter shooting," Burke said. "That's something we'll see on film and try to make an adjustment on. I think the zone [we played later] slowed it up, the inside. Unfortunately, they hit a couple threes. For the majority of the second half, we played well. We should have played that way in the first half."

The Wolverines started just as poorly on the offensive side of the court.

Burke kicked off the scoring with a three-point bucket on Michigan's first possession of the game. But then production ground to a halt.

From 19:34 to 12:16 in the first half, the Wolverines missed all six shots they took, while also compiling four turnovers.

A major reason for Michigan's offensive woes was Burke himself, who finished with 15 points, four assists and a disappointing four turnovers.

Craft - widely regarded as one of the best on-ball defenders in the country - was never far from Burke and always had a hand in his face when Burke had the ball.

"You have to give him credit," Burke said. "He's one of the best defenders in the country. I love playing against him because he makes me better. He makes me work. Last shot - some go in and some don't. I thought it was going in. It looked good. I think it went in and then came back out. We just have to get better, watch film, learn from it and move forward.

"We haven't faced adversity like this this year. With the team we have and how young we are, we're obviously disappointed but we have to watch film, make adjustments and continue to get better. We're going to Minnesota and we'll get better."

Notes

Stauskas "Denied"

Michigan freshman sharpshooter Nik Stauskas had, perhaps, the worst game of his young career, scoring zero points in 23 minutes of action.

Stauskas didn't shoot a ton - hoisting up just three attempts from beyond the arc - and when he did get one off, it was an ill-advised prayer, with a Buckeye defender all over him.

Ohio State was bound and determined not to let Stauskas get any open looks.

"They were denying Nik," Burke said. "So we just had to continue to play. When we got in the paint, they weren't leaving him. I told him to keep trying to get good looks - I was going to find him. But Ohio State did a great job of taking him away on the perimeter."

Defending Deshaun

Ohio State guard Deshaun Thomas can score from almost anywhere on the court - and he showed that Sunday, pouring in a game-high 20 points on 8-of-18 shooting (including 3-of-7 from three-point range).

"He is a great offensive player," junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. said. "He can shoot the ball from any given spot, really. You have to be there on the catch and just try to contain him. You have top contest every shot, because most of the time, it's going to go in."

Shot Selection

"I think there were some looks we definitely shouldn't have taken," Burke said. "I think there were a couple that may have looked like bad shots, but when guys go under screens, our coaches tell us to make them pay for it. All of our perimeter players and even our bigs, we have confidence and we're going to take those shots."

"Some plays, we had some great looks," Hardaway said. "Om some plays, we forced it a little bit. Like Trey said. We can't worry about that. We have to move on to the next play, and we have to try and get better. We'll harp on it. We'll watch film and see what we did wrong."


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