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Surging Michigan up next for Ohio State in Big Ten Tournament

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INDIANAPOLIS — After sneaking past Northwestern, 67-61, in overtime Friday in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, the Ohio State men’s basketball team will play Michigan on Saturday.

The Buckeyes needed an Evan Turner buzzer-beater from just inside halfcourt to top the Wolverines in the 2010 tournament.

With the No. 4-seeded Wolverines’ (20-12) 60-55 win against Illinois on Friday, Michigan coach John Beilein said his team is playing its best basketball late in the season.

After a 1-6 start to Big Ten play, Michigan put together an 8-3 record down the stretch to finish 9-9 in conference play.

The Wolverines were able to close the season strong because of improved play from their young players. Michigan starts two freshmen and one sophomore.

That sophomore, guard Darius Morris, leads the Wolverines in scoring and assists with 15.1 and 6.8, respectively. That assist mark tops the Big Ten.

OSU point guard Aaron Craft likely would be the primary defender of Morris. The freshman said he is looking forward to the opportunity.

“Defense is something I’ve definitely taken pride in over the years,” he said. “I definitely enjoy the challenge.”

Morris had 17 points and seven assists against Illinois.

Freshman guard Tim Hardaway Jr. and redshirt freshman forward Jordan Morgan are next in scoring for the Wolverines, with 13.8 and 9.5 points per game, respectively.

OSU freshman forward Jared Sullinger said he knows how he will approach the talented, young Michigan squad.

“It’s the Big Ten,” he said. “This is where you’ve got to be physical, especially in the Big Ten Tournament.”

The Buckeyes took home victories in both matchups with Michigan this season, with a 68-64 win Jan. 12 in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a 62-53 victory Feb. 3 at home.

OSU junior guard William Buford topped all Buckeye scorers in the teams’ first meeting, with 19 points. Sullinger put up 19 of his own in the second meeting with the Wolverines, to go along with 15 rebounds.

But, the Buckeyes are looking forward, not back.

“We have a game tomorrow,” Sullinger said, “and that’s really where our focus is at.”

Michigan would all but assure an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament with a victory against No. 1 OSU.

If OSU shoots like it did against Northwestern, it may make that victory more likely. The Buckeyes tied a season low by connecting on just 32 percent of their shots from the floor against the Wildcats.

“Hopefully we shoot the ball a little better tomorrow,” Matta said.

Though shooting may be a concern, the fact that four players — Sullinger, Craft, senior guard Jon Diebler and fifth-year senior forward David Lighty — played 40 minutes or more against the Wildcats does not seem to be.

“I don’t think it affects us at all,” Lighty said. “We’ve been through it before, last year and even the year before that. It’s just us coming out and continuing to do what we do.”

The Buckeyes will face the Wolverines at 1:40 p.m. Saturday at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

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