Buckeyes Get Gritty for Road Win in Ann Arbor
By John Porentas
OSU Head Coach Thad Matta has been saying since the season began that the Buckeyes would have to develop some toughness in order to be successful this season.
Since the season began, another obstacle has cropped up. Injuries to David Lighty and Nicola Kecman and the transfer of point guard Noopy Crater has left Matta short of players. That meant that some players who were maybe scheduled to be bit players were going to have to step up and be prime-time.
The Buckeyes (13-3, 3-2 Big Ten) gave Matta a double play in Ann Arbor on Saturday, coming away with a 65-58 win over No. 24/25 Michigan (13-5, 3-3 Big Ten) in a rather nasty Chrisler arena. The Buckeyes showed considerable toughness and will to win, and a couple of players emerged who looked like they came of age just in time to help OSU to the win.
Freshmen William Buford and B. J. Mullens played like anything but freshmen in Ann Arbor. Mullens came off the bench to score 15 points, pull down six rebounds and blocked three shots in 26 minutes of play. Nine of his 15 points came late in the game when the Buckeyes needed them most. Buford meanwhile contributed 15 points of his own with a combination of silky-smooth drives and mid range jumpers that helped keep the Buckeyes in the game.
"Those guys providing us a lift in the scoring area is obviously boosting our offense. Both guys bring a little something different in how they are capable of scoring," said OSU Head Coach Thad Matta.
The emergence of Mullens and Bufford as offensive threats comes none too soon for a Buckeye team that was in need of help at the offensive end.
"They're not really freshman anymore," said sophomore guard Jon Diebler.
"It was kind of like Evan and I last year, it's a rude awakening at first, but when it comes down to it you've got to be able to play and Will and B. J. have done a great job."
Both Mullens and Buford were impressive, but not as impressive as the overall toughness the Buckeyes showed as team. Ohio State's losses this season have had a common theme, a period of time in the game when they allowed the opponent to steal the momentum and go on a big run. OSU simply did not have the grit to get the stop that was needed or the basket to put an end to the run. Against the Wolverines, it was a different story.
"There were spurts in the game where in previous games we might have crumbled, but tonight after they made a little run and got a lead we came together and answered the call," said Diebler.
OSU held the lead for much of the first half, stretching it to as many as 11, but the Wolverines made a run as the half wound down and cut the OSU lead to just four at the intermission. They continued that run in the second half, outscoring OSU 9-2 over the first six minutes and 22 seconds to tie the game, then added another 6-2 run to take a four point lead at at 44-40 with 8:15 remaining in the game.
The spurt had all the potential to be the kind of run that has done in the Buckeyes, but this time they were able to suck it up and turn the tide to go on to the win behind a defensive effort that was impressive and the scoring of Buford, Mullens and sophomore forward Evan Turner. Turner scored 11, Buford four and Mullens nine over the last 10:28 of the game to account for all OSU's scoring as the game wound down. The Wolverines had absolutely no answer for the size of Mullens who scored with thunderous dunks as the Buckeyes made their comeback.
"Mullens is tough to stop, Lauderdale as well," said U of M Head Coach John Beilein.
"They were better than us tonight, no question about it."
Mullens offense down low not only put points on the scoreboard but fired up the entire OSU bench.
"That brings a lot of momentum to our team, especially in an away game in a place like this, Michigan vs. Ohio State," said Mullens.
"Michigan had all the momentum, but when I'm throwing down dunks like that it kills their momentum and brings it to us."
The road win was impressive, but what really brought a smile to Matta's face was the way his team responded to adversity when Michigan took the lead in the second half.
"They made the run on us and we were able to counter it. We told our guys they would make a run on us and we had to keep our composure," said Matta.
"I don't think honesty a couple of weeks ago we could have done what we did there.
"I think guys are growing up a little bit and understanding. Guys reached a little bit deeper and came up with some loose balls and rebounds out of their area, and that's what this team has to do."
The Buckeyes led by 10 with 37 second left to play, but the Wolverines had one more charge left in them. A quick pair of three point field goals cut OSU's lead to just four with 29 seconds left to play, but Turner was fouled on a breakaway. The foul was deemed intentional and Turner was awarded two free throws. A 75 percent free throw shooter, Turner missed both.
"I was like, 'How did I miss?' I shoot a hundred a day, how did I miss," said Turner of his misses.
Turner made up for the misses by hitting six straight free throws down the stretch to enable the Buckeyes to salt away the win.
"Every time we come out here the coach tells us we have to man-up," said Mullens. "Definitely at the end of the game right there when we were down we had come closer as a team,:" said Mullens. "We came together and stuck it out."
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