With Nik Stauskas taking Aaron Craft away from the fray and Craft’s Ohio State teammates otherwise occupied with Michigan’s other perimeter shooting threats, the Wolverines’ lane was wide open for business last night.
They took care of it.
Freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. took advantage of the spacing to score all 13 of his points in the second half and No. 15 Michigan scored twice on second chances in the last six minutes to rally past No. 22 Ohio State and win for the first time in 11 years in Value City Arena, 70-60.
“For us to come into this hostile arena and get the win is big for us,” said Jordan Morgan after the Wolverines handed coach Thad Matta his first home loss in 10 years to the Buckeyes’ archrival.
Stauskas scored 15 points and Walton also had 10 rebounds and six assists to lead Michigan (18-6 overall, 10-2 Big Ten), which moved a half-game ahead of Michigan State atop the conference standings.
LaQuinton Ross had 24 points and Lenzelle Smith Jr. 13 for Ohio State (19-6, 6-6), which lost its third home game of the season, its most in five years, and had its hopes of contending for a Big Ten title crippled with six games remaining.
“We have a tough group of guys,” Ross said. “Guys will be down about it tonight, but we’ve got to look forward. We’ve got six games left in the Big Ten. We’ve got to be ready for those.”
Michigan shot 52 percent from the field in the second half after missing 17 of its first 22 shots in the game.
Ohio State gave up the lead for the first time since the opening minutes when Michigan put together an 18-5 run early in the second half to take a 49-43 lead with 9:15 to play. The Buckeyes, who shot only 40.7 percent in the second half, had only two field goals in a span of nearly 71/2 minutes.
They rallied to close to 51-50 when Ross followed two missed free throws with a three-point play at 6:21.
But that was as close as they would get as Michigan rebuilt its lead to 10 points in the next five minutes on second-chance baskets by Morgan and Walton, a corner three by Glenn Robinson III and three free throws by Walton. He was fouled by Amir Williams outside the arc as he put up a desperation shot with a second left on the shot clock.
The free throws gave Michigan a 62-52 lead with 1:54 left, and Ohio State did not get closer than eight from there.
“I can’t say enough about what Jordan Morgan did on the backboard (eight rebounds, six on offense), and then Derrick Walton with just a great game,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.
Beilein said the Wolverines ran some actions in the second half to remove Craft from the Buckeyes’ defensive equation, which opened the lane for Walton to drive for baskets and create for his teammates.
“There were certain actions we were doing to just keep Craft the heck out of there. Just get him over there and just let the other four guys play us, because he was not going to help off Nick,” Beilein said.
“They’ve always ‘locked the rails’ on us (defending the lane), but Craft was always on the point guard. When he’s on a guy like Stauskas . . . you do have opportunities.”
Matta said the Buckeyes talked at halftime and in timeouts that their defensive rotations were too slow, which compromised both their defense and their rebounding.
“We didn’t get that done at the level we needed to get it done in the crucial moments,” he said.