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Sunday, January 29, 2012
3-pointers: Ohio State 64, Michigan 49

By Michael Rothstein

Michigan's run either in sole possession or tied for first place in the Big Ten is over. Ohio State's 64-49 win over the Wolverines in Columbus on Sunday afternoon took care of that.

In reality, though, this was always going to be one of Michigan's toughest games of the season -- on the road against one of the top teams in the country. It is a matchup where the Wolverines -- like they did on Sunday -- have to almost sell out defensively on doubling Ohio State star Jared Sullinger, allowing for open offensive rebounds and kick-outs for 3-pointers.

That, along with offensive struggles, were the difference in the game. Here are three major factors to what happened in Value City Arena on Sunday afternoon.

Ohio State's Lenzelle Smith Jr. was the difference

He's a name that is usually the fifth one mentioned when talking about Ohio State. He doesn't have the inside game and overall presence of Sullinger, the defense of Aaron Craft, the explosiveness of Deshaun Thomas or the staying power of William Buford, but Smith is the reason Ohio State beat Michigan on Sunday.

Michigan did a good job defending Sullinger in the post -- it was a defense similar to what the Wolverines did to him in Ann Arbor last season, fronting the post at almost every opportunity with Jordan Morgan and the help side doubling the baseline when he would spin or collapsing the lane when he'd go into the paint. Doing that, though, opened up the weak side for offensive rebounds, and the Buckeyes took advantage. Ohio State had 14 offensive rebounds -- eight of them by Smith Jr. He had a team-high 17 points, and the Buckeyes had 16 second-chance points.

Michigan had to play defense the way it did on Sullinger to have a chance to win, but this was the type of game where having a healthy Jon Horford -- who traveled but didn't dress -- would have helped. Sullinger finished with 13 points and five rebounds.

Still, Michigan had a shot to win ...

Despite all of that, Michigan was still in the game down seven points, 50-43, with 5:14 left when Stu Douglass missed an open 3-pointer. Morgan grabbed the offensive rebound but instead of going up strong, he paused and held the ball low. This allowed Craft to slip underneath him and strip the ball. Ohio State then scored on a Thomas layup. Sullinger blocked a shot by Zack Novak on the next possession, and then a Sullinger one-handed slam the other way gave Ohio State a 54-43 lead.

That sequence ended any chance of an upset and Michigan's first win at Ohio State since Jan. 17, 1998.

Speaking of Novak ...

The Michigan senior captain disappeared Sunday. He had his worst game of the season and his first scoreless effort since Nov. 21, 2010, when he had no points on four shots in 19 minutes against Gardner-Webb. He still had six rebounds in that game.

Sunday was worse. Novak missed all four of his shots, grabbed four rebounds and was a non-factor on offense or defense. Novak, though, has historically struggled at Ohio State. He had three points and six rebounds at OSU last season, 11 points and three rebounds as a sophomore and six points and one rebound as a freshman. His career averages there are five points and 3.5 rebounds -- well below his 8-point, 4.6-rebound career averages.

Novak never seemed to find a rhythm in his last game at Value City Arena. Might not be his last game in Columbus, though. The city is one of eight second/third round NCAA tournament sites.