By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 29, 2012
COLUMBUS — No. 4 Ohio State challenged the Michigan basketball team to play hard-nosed, rough-and-tumble basketball in the paint, and Michigan responded — with a whimper.
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The Buckeyes physically dominated the 20th-ranked Wolverines inside, leaving 14 offensive rebounds, 16 second-chance points and dire foul trouble for Michigan in their wake.
“They have tremendous ... talented guys,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “What might work as a box out against another team does not work against them. You have to finish every possession with a legal, strong box out. It’s just a couple (rebounds) that we could have controlled that really would have been important in this game.”
Standing at 6-foot-3, Ohio State guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. punished the Wolverines with eight offensive rebounds and a game-high 17 points. His 12 rebounds were also a game high.
“I knew that was going to be our edge, rebounding and just doing the little things,” Smith said. “I stuck to that early and just got myself in a position where I could get the rebounds. We weren’t making many shots, so it was a better chance on getting rebounds.”
Smith has forwards Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas to thank for his success. The two sophomores bullied Michigan’s big men and cleared the path for Smith to get extra looks on weak-side rebounds and tipped balls.
“I just try to know the angle and where the ball is going to bounce depending where they shoot,” Smith said. “When Jared got his second foul, my eye lit up. I knew it was go time and needed to go to work.”
The Buckeyes’ toughness also got the Wolverines in foul trouble.
Redshirt sophomore center Jordan Morgan and sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz couldn’t match the Buckeyes’ strength down low and resorted to fouling. Both had four fouls and had to be spelled by lightly used reserves.
With sophomore center Jon Horford out indefinitely with a foot injury, Beilein had to call on junior forward Blake McLimans and sophomore forward Colton Christian. Both saw their most-ever playing time in a Big Ten game.
“It just takes some of our flow offensively away,” Beilein said of taking Morgan and Smotrycz out. “Our defense actually was pretty good during that span, but it was our offense that hurt during that span when we had to go to the bench.”
Offensively, the Wolverines couldn’t manage to overcome Ohio State's frontcourt, even when Smotrycz and Morgan were in.
Michigan was unable to create opportunities for itself inside the 3-point arc and could only get points in the paint on passes to slashing teammates and feeds right under the basket. Penetration into the lane resulted in either a kick-out or an off-balance shot.
Freshman point guard Trey Burke was baffled by Ohio State guard Aaron Craft and had to settle for jump shots. He made three 3-pointers but couldn’t get to the rim at will like he’s accustomed to.
“They kind of double-teamed me off the pick-and-roll, so it wasn’t really like I could just turn the corner,” Burke said. “Aaron Craft wouldn’t let me use the screen. That was their game plan — not to let me use the screen. They had a pretty good scheme on me.”
Down the stretch, when the Buckeyes extended their lead to double digits, Michigan’s only hope of a comeback was to drain its 3-pointers, which had mixed results.
Ohio State didn’t even have to revert to fouling when the Wolverines tried to get inside. In fact, Michigan had zero free throw attempts until 2:33 was remaining in the game. It was almost the first time since the 1996-97 season that a Big Ten team was held without a free throw.
Meanwhile, Ohio State took 18 free throws and made 15 of them.
“A lot of theirs came off their offensive rebounds,” Beilein said. “We got 10 offensive rebounds, but we didn’t get to the line. So they got fouled better than we did.”
Added Morgan: “They’re a really talented team, and they’ve got good players. It’s a challenge guarding anybody on that team.”