In front of a lethargic crowd, Ohio State couldn't keep out the bitter cold. Snowy, slippery and ugly weather conditions in Columbus carried over to Ohio State's play against visiting Michigan in a 76-63 victory against the Wolverines Tuesday.
Mike Conley scored a career-high 23 points to go along with six assists to help lead the Buckeyes to win No. 21 on the season.
As most fans were late-arriving due to horrendous travel conditions, Ohio State struggled to pull away from a pesky Michigan (16-8) team desperate for a statement road win. Domination early from 7-footer Greg Oden was rendered moot in the second half as Oden picked up an early third foul in the second 20 minutes.
Oden managed 15 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots in 32 minutes of action, despite foul problems. Courtney Sims led Michigan with 17 points and eight rebounds on 8-of-13 shooting.
What Michigan Did Right and Ohio State Did Wrong
* The Wolverines attacked Ohio State's first-half fullcourt pressure, despite a continual lack of ball-handling this season. Ohio State's pressure was a little too passive, especially on the back end, allowing Michigan some easy baskets.
* In hopes of minimizing Oden's impact defensively, Michigan tried several times to draw Oden to the high post and run baseline penetration on the backside for easy lay-ups. Although Michigan's ball-handlers did not take advantage, several times Oden and Matt Terwilliger were slow to return to their man after hedging on a screen. In the coming weeks, specifically Feb. 25, Wisconsin will not be so forgiving.
* Freshman guard Daequan Cook scored 8 points in the first half, giving Ohio State a spark offensively. However, he played sparingly in the second half in favor of Ohio State playing two of Othello Hunter, Oden and Terwilliger on the floor at the same time against Michigan's size. In addition, Conley and Jamar Butler's perimeter defense meant Cook, Ron Lewis and David Lighty had to share the precious few minutes between them when Conley and Butler were both playing. It did not appear that Cook's lack of minutes were anything more than match-up preferences.
* In all honesty, it appeared that Ohio State simply lacked effort and intensity Tuesday. It was as if their win against Michiagn State had them looking past this game. The first two minutes, Ohio State had three stout defensive stands, but they began sagging off jump-shooters and were not hustling to help off their man.
* Defensively, Ohio State continues to struggle focusing off-the-ball. Ohio State has a pair of terrific on-the-ball defenders in Conley and Butler, but Tuesday, the Buckeyes struggled staying with senior Dion Harris around screens. Harris was 6-of-11 for 17 points, mostly because of space created from downscreens freeing him up for open jumpers.
* Although Terwilliger showed his offensive potential Tuesday, he continues to struggle holding ground defensively and getting off his feet and using two hands to rebound. Terwilliger's involvement offensively does not preclude him from seeing minutes down the stretch as much as his defensive productivity may.
What Ohio State Did Right and Michigan Did Wrong
* Hunter continues to build off his rapid development. Against Michigan, Hunter was a weakside rebounding nightmare for Michigan. He finished with 4 points, nine rebounds and blocked an additional five shots as Michigan scorers were looking to avoid Oden's outstretched arms. Hunter has had a knack for offensive rebounds of late and has played great defensively both in the high and low post areas.
* For the second consecutive game, Ohio State turned the ball over fewer than 10 times. Although the Buckeyes did not shoot well in East Lansing, they turned the ball over just seven times. Tuesday night, Ohio State turned it over nine times, shooting 47 percent and 7-of-17 from 3-point range. Ohio State is showing signs of better halfcourt execution, including more involvement inside-out with Oden. Further, Ron Lewis has begun to take advantage of his athleticism by Thad Matta electing to post him up opposite Oden against smaller defenders. Butler's confidence level and Conley's aggressiveness have opened the doors for a more smooth offensive set by Ohio State.
* Although Michigan did a fair job guarding the 3-pointer and prohibiting Oden from getting too deep in the post, the Wolverines were unable to a) stop deep penetration by Ohio State guards and b) stop the entry pass from any point on the perimeter. Usually Ohio State needs to rotate the ball with 2-3 passes to gain a firm entry angle but against Michigan, their guards sometimes needed just one, or even no passes to get the ball to Oden. Michigan's double-team kept him from turning toward the paint, but a few times, Sims gave up too much space on the baseline to use the drop-step for an easy dunk.
* Conley's confidence in his jump-shot continues to do wonders for the rest of his game. Opponents now are rarely giving him the 3-pointer off screens or hedges, and as a result, he's often found mismatches or open lanes more common to penetrate with. His quickness even with a good defender on him makes it tough to stop him from getting to the rim.
* Lost in the need for Butler and Conley to play large minutes along with two Ohio State frontcourt players was the fact David Lighty played a very aggressive first half. Lighty was playing good defense and made several early hustle plays. Lighty's offense still has not matured, nor has he gained confidence in his shot, but Lighty is doing a lot of little things when he's in the game that will not show up in a box score.
It wasn't necessarily the kind of game Ohio State would have liked to build off of after their road victory against Michigan State. That said, a double-digit win at home in the home stretch of a conference championship race will have to suffice.
It's actually somewhat impressive that Ohio State gave a lackluster effort before a small home crowd, Michigan desperately needed a road win for their NCAA Tournament hopes and Ohio State played spotty defensively, but yet still managed a 13-point victory in a game where they did not trail after a couple of minutes. It goes to show how much good shot selection and offensive execution can carry a team.
Even further, if Ohio State can continue to turn the ball over fewer than 10 times a game, it becomes a legitimate National Championship contender. The game itself was not one of the finer ones for the Buckeyes this season. But on the other hand, there may have been more positive aspects of the game than many other victories.