INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State men’s basketball fans couldn’t have picked a better time for their favorite team to get hot.
The Buckeyes (27-6, 14-5 Big Ten) cruised to a win against Michigan (24-9, 13-6 Big Ten) in a Big Ten Tournament semifinal-round game, 77-55, Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. No. 3-seed OSU was led by the sophomore forward tandem of Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas, who scored 24 and 22 points, respectively.
OSU will play Michigan State in Sunday’s championship game. The No. 1-seeded Spartans toppled No. 4-seed Wisconsin in the first semifinal match on Saturday, 65-52.
Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said the game was definitely about defense.
“We had great activity — on the ball (and) off the ball,” Matta said. “Our ball-screen defense was good. Our bigs were extremely active. I thought we had great communication.”
Matta said the offense was equally impressive.
“We got off to a great start (offensively),” Matta said. “The ball was moving and we knew Michigan was going to make a run at us. These guys countered that.”
Fewer than 24 hours after scoring a season-high 30 points, Sullinger continued his dominant play in the early stages of the Michigan game, scoring eight of OSU’s first 10 points. That offensive burst helped OSU to a 10-3 lead by the first television timeout at 15:27 of the first half.
Michigan didn’t score until the 11:01 mark of the first half — a lay-up senior guard Zack Novak cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 16-5.
OSU grew its lead to 21-9 by the 7:12 mark in the half after Thomas caught fire.
Thomas connected on 4-of-7 attempts through that point in the opening stanza for eight points. After the game, he said that OSU was selective when looking for shots.
“I mean, just, we’re a team. We’ve got many guys who can score,” Thomas said. “So, I just try to go to the offensive glass to get easy baskets, and … try not to throw up bad shots and just do the little things.”
Michigan was forced to call a timeout with 4:06 to play in the half after a turnover by its freshman guard Trey Burke allowed OSU senior guard William Buford to lay in a 2-pointer that pushed the lead to 30-16.
Burke, a former teammate of Sullinger’s at Northland High School in Columbus, struggled to make an impact on the game. Burke committed three turnovers in the first half and was 0-of-5 from the field.
OSU sophomore guard Aaron Craft said guarding Burke, who finished the game with five points, was a team effort.
“(I) just tried to not make it about me against (Burke),” Craft said. “Our bigs did a great job … and everyone else did a great job of zoning up and not giving up easy baskets for the most part. (Burke) is a great player but, fortunately enough today, he didn’t make too many shots.”
Meanwhile, Sullinger continued his domination, finishing the half with 16 points and six rebounds to help his team take a 34-21 lead into the locker room at half.
Michigan finished the half on 28 percent shooting from the field while OSU poured 52 percent of its shot in.
OSU extended its lead to 20 points by the 16:00 mark of the second half after a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Aaron Craft.
Scoring slowed for OSU in the minutes to come, but stingy defense prevented Michigan from making a significant dent in the Buckeyes’ lead. Coach Thad Matta’s squad remained in front by 20 at the midway point in the second half.
A lay-in by Thomas put the Buckeyes up by 22 points with just more than seven minutes to play and the Buckeyes never looked back. OSU cleared its bench and Michigan fans began to clear their seats with more than three minutes to play.
After would will likely be the teams’ last meeting during the 2011-12 season, Michigan coach John Beilein said OSU is as good a team as he has seen in his 20 years as a Division I coach.
“(OSU is) tremendous — the talent — and what’s really good about it is they play together. There was no selfishness,” Beilein said. “They made the extra pass. They made the right plays. It was an incredible performance. We … got humbled quite a bit.”
Sunday’s championship game between top-seeded MSU and the Buckeyes will tip at 3:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on CBS.