Michigan vs. Ohio State: Buckeyes' Clutch Win Shows Championship-Worthy Defense

Thad NovakCorrespondent IJanuary 13, 2013

January 13, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes guard Aaron Craft (4) steals the ball from Michigan Wolverines forward Jordan Morgan (52) at Value City Arena.  Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday's Michigan vs. Ohio State clash could have been a coronation for the 16-0 Wolverines, but the home-standing Buckeyes wrote a different ending. A dominant first half from the maligned Ohio State defense proved to be just enough to eke out a 56-53 win and knock off the nation’s last unbeaten team.

Barely more than a week ago, lack of hustle and lack of rebounding sent the Buckeyes down to a 19-point defeat at Illinois. Both problems were corrected in spades on Sunday, as Ohio State’s defensive intensity triggered a 16-0 run following Trey Burke’s opening three-point volley.

That the Buckeyes played that kind of defense at all is an encouraging (and welcome) sign for a team that had yet to beat a national contender in 2012-13. That Thad Matta's troops looked so overpowering against one of the most feared offenses in college basketball suggests that preseason Final Four chatter in Columbus wasn’t so far-fetched.

For the game, Michigan—whose field-goal shooting is fourth in the nation at .514—was held to .383 from the floor and was outrebounded 30-25. That’s a performance worthy of the best defenses in the nation—such as, say, the Kansas team that came onto this same floor and pounded the Buckeyes back in December.

The news wasn’t all rose-colored for the Scarlet and Gray, though. In what’s becoming a disturbingly regular occurrence, Big Ten scoring leader Deshaun Thomas was the only Ohio State player in double figures in points.

Even a red-hot start from Aaron Craft tapered off to a nine-point, four-assist offensive showing, though Craft’s defensive pressure did anchor the Buckeyes on that end of the floor.

Obviously, Ohio State will feel a lot more comfortable if it can cobble together some legitimate offensive support for the dynamic Thomas. Still, today’s win shows that even a middling offensive effort from the Buckeyes can be enough to beat a full-fledged title contender.

If Ohio State’s defense turns in more performances like Sunday's, this team will be back in the title-contender discussion itself in very short order.