Trey Burke and Jared Sullinger were best friends growing up, and they both attended Northland High School in Columbus, Ohio. But on Saturday night, they were playing against each other, and it was all business.
Despite having won midweek at Minnesota, Sullinger and the Buckeyes came into Saturday’s night matchup in Ann Arbor needing a win in order to stay within striking distance of conference leading Michigan State, and more importantly, to stay in contention for a NCAA Tournament 1-seed. OSU had won six straight against the Wolverines, including a 15-point drubbing at Value City Arena on January 29.
In that game, point guard Aaron Craft, widely regarded as the best on-ball defender in the Big Ten and maybe in the country, harassed Michigan’s Burke into five turnovers. The freshman finished with 13 points, but went just 5-11 from the field.
With ESPN College Gameday visiting Ann Arbor for the first time in school history for basketball purposes, Burke was determined to make sure that his childhood friend and high school teammate didn’t leave with a win. But to knock off the sixth-ranked Buckeyes, the Wolverines’ point guard would need to play better than he did in Columbus three weeks ago.
Sullinger was a 2010 McDonald’s All-American (Burke wasn’t selected for the 2011 roster) and last year’s national freshman of the year, but his supposedly “less-talented” high school teammate was the best player on the floor last night.
Burke played with senior-like composure for all of his 37 minutes, finishing with 17 points and five assists. His most important bucket came with just 11 seconds remaining. After two made free throws by Craft, Michigan’s lead was down to just three. Burke had been the Wolverines’ go-to guy all night, and that role wasn’t going to change in the game’s waning moments.
It was only fitting that Burke would be matched up with Sullinger, and the younger of the two former Northland High School stars shined when it mattered most. Burke went right at Big Sully, floating a rainbow over the All-American forward that bounced high off the glass and dropped through the net, provoking an eruption of cheers from the hyped up Crisler Arena crowd.
Burke had beaten the presumptive pre-season Big Ten champions, and with the win, vaulted his own team into contention for a conference title.
The Wolverines (10-4) are now tied for second place with the Buckeyes, just a half game back of MSU. A tough road game against a desperate Northwestern team awaits Tuesday night, but the Maize and Blue just may have played themselves into contention for a two-seed come March.
Chris Johnson is a sports writer for The Daily Northwestern. He is also the Michigan beat writer for bigtenorbust.com. Follow him @chrisdjohnsonn or contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org.Powered by Sidelines Follow paulmbanks