Nobody wanted to admit it but Michigan needed this one. The No. 3 ranked Wolverines don’t look like a team that needs a win in early February but for a team with its sights on the Big Ten title, this game had to end up in the win column. Michigan has road trips to Wisconsin and Michigan State coming in the next week and Big Ten contenders simply can’t afford to lose games at home.
For a majority of Tuesday night’s rivalry showdown in Ann Arbor, Michigan didn’t look anything like a team concerned with winning a Big Ten title. The Wolverines were consistently late on defensive rotations and beaten to loose balls and rebounds. A deflating home loss almost looked imminent as Ohio State pulled ahead by eight points nearly halfway through the second half.
Tim Hardaway Jr. figured things out just soon enough. If the first 30 minutes of the game served as a painful reminder of just how young this team can look at times, the final 15 demonstrated what a luxury it is to lean on someone who’s been there before. Hardaway came to life, hitting five straight triples, and woke the Wolverines up in time to force overtime before wrestling away a victory in the extra period.
The game statistics totals don’t do this game justice. A quick glance at the four factors chart shows a clean but slow (57 possessions in regulation) game with great shooting by both teams, few turnovers or fouls and a slightly above average number of offensive rebounds. Both teams scored the ball well, but Michigan’s offensive output of 1.19 points per trip was especially impressive considering Ohio State hasn’t surrendered more than 1.11 points per possession (against Duke) this season. Looking at the game box score also illustrates one other point: Michigan was bailed out by the three point shot. The Wolverines shot just 39% on twos compared to 58% on threes and generated 55% of their scoring output from long range.
Breaking the game down period by period is required to understand this game in earnest. For whatever reason the nature of the game seemed to shift dramatically every time the horn sounded. Here’s a look at both team’s offensive outputs by period:
The first half played out somewhat as you’d expect. Michigan’s offense was somewhere below its season average due to facing the league’s best defense and Ohio State’s offense slightly outperforming its season averages against a somewhat questionable Michigan defense.
In the second half, both teams threw defense out the window and played what is almost assured to be the most efficient combined offensive half of the Big Ten season. At just 28 possessions, both teams scored over 1.45 points per trip and the offensive numbers were staggering. Michigan posted an effective field goal percentage of 73 percent thanks to connecting on 89 percent (8/9) of its threes. Ohio State didn’t lag far behind in the second half, making 63 percent of its twos and 50 percent of its threes. The defensive rebounding by both teams was no better than the field goal defense. Michigan rebounded 58 percent of its misses in the second half but only turned those seven offensive rebounds into five second chance points. Ohio State was slightly less productive on the offensive glass, rebounding 45 percent of its misses, but managed to convert five offensive boards into 10 second chance points.
The overtime period continued the trend of unexpected as both teams buckled down on the defensive end – or tightened up offensively. With just two made field goals split evenly between the two teams, the difference in overtime was that Burke’s contested jumper came from behind the three point line and Glenn Robinson III made one of two free throws. Somehow Buckeye scorer extraordinaire Deshaun Thomas failed to attempt a field goal in overtime – rarely even touching the ball – while Aaron Craft accounted for four of the Buckeyes’ five overtime field goals and also turned the ball over. While Craft played a strong defensive game on the night, perhaps he was the one that let the “personal nature” of the Burke-Craft match-up affect him down the stretch.
Michigan is halfway through its treacherous mid-season stretch with trips to Wisconsin and East Lansing remaining on the docket. The baseline for this stretch was likely 2-2 and the Wolverines have held serve thus far. One road win in the next week would keep the Wolverines firmly in the title race but two could put Michigan back in the driver’s seat.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway’s 17 point second half performance featured 5-of-5 three point shooting and might have been the most impressive explosive half of the lot for a player that forged his career on halves just like this as a freshman. Hardaway let the game come to him in the first half – and had a great pick and roll dish to McGary – but once he heated up in the second the Wolverines did a great job of getting him open looks. Michigan looked to be drifting away before Hardaway put the Wolverines on his back and carried them back into the game.
- Trey Burke: Craft is a great defender and deserves all of the praise he’s given by commentators, analysts and random Ohio State fans on the street. It’s a joy to watch Burke and Craft go head to head and often times it feels like they not only know each other’s every move, they know every counter move as well. But Trey Burke got the best of this match-up. Burke scored 16 points on 6-of-12 (4-7 3pt) shooting and handed out eight assists while using just 22 percent of Michigan’s possessions – below his season average. Burke fed his freshmen early on, facilitated Hardaway’s offensive explosion and contributed his own offense down the stretch. Burke hit the game winning three (even if he missed one first) and blocked Craft’s potentially game winning effort. Here’s to hoping for a rubber match in Chicago.
- Mitch McGary: McGary’s confidence is absolutely surging and he’s finally starting to relax and just play basketball. Most of the time that’s good and John Beilein will live with a couple of goofy shots because McGary makes so many plays. He had a couple of great pick and roll finishes in the first half, set great screens, and grabbed four steals (!). He even threw a nice pass to a cutting Nik Stauskas from the high post for an assist. McGary finished with 14 points on 7-of-13 shooting and six rebounds (3 off). His stamina still isn’t all the way there but his continued improvement bodes well for the future.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas had a solid night, knocking down three triples but turning the ball over four times. His threes were all huge from the opening three which gave the Wolverines some early confidence to his late bucket which gave the Wolverines the lead. I’m okay living with a couple Stauskas turnovers when he’s trying to make plays in the half court offense but two of his four turnovers came late in the game and nearly proved costly: a forced turnover by Aaron Craft and a botched outlet pass that turned into a Deshaun Thomas three pointer.
- Glenn Robinson III: Robinson’s confidence is lost somewhere in the middle of Indiana. Robinson managed 10 points and four assists, four rebounds and two steals but it was clear that he’s not himself. Part of it might be unfair due to Robinson’s nonchalant demeanor but he just seems a step slow on the defensive end of the floor. He’s thinking rather than reacting and struggling to get a body on people on the defensive glass. Games are only going to get more physical over the next two games and it will be interesting to see how Robinson reacts.
- Jon Horford: Horford wasn’t bad but it was clear that he didn’t make as strong of an impact as McGary. Horford finished with two points (1-3 fg), two assists, three rebounds (1 off) and a block in 13 minutes.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert really struggled in the first half. He seemed lost on defense both in half court and in the transition and also looked somewhat hesitant to shoot the ball from the perimeter. He missed his only field goal attempt in nine minutes.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecht was a massive spark in Columbus but struggled when he took the floor after Burke’s lip bas bloodied. He turned the ball over and missed his only field goal attempt in just two minutes.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan again played just a couple of minutes and didn’t look 100 percent.