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January 13, 2013

U-M begins tough part of its journey with a lesson

Ohio State wasn't impressed with Michigan's shot at a program record 17 straight wins to open the year - nor were the Buckeyes prepared to let U-M earn the nation's No. 1 ranking on their floor without a fight. Michigan head coach John Beilein insisted his team was amped to play the Buckeyes, but OSU showed just how much it will take to win on the road in the Big Ten in a 56-53 win.

The intangibles were in Ohio State's favor, and it showed early. Of Michigan's five freshmen who saw significant minutes, only one played as if the moment weren't too big for him - and that one was back-up point guard Spike Albrecht, who played smarter and more in control than any of his teammates in the first half.

Box Score

What could have been a 20-plus point deficit following a 29-8 start was instead a 12-point halftime deficit thanks to a shot in the arm from Albrecht's seven points in seven minutes.

"He was terrific; very steady," head coach John Beilein said. "We just wanted to keep things simple. He's a singles hitter, but even he took a step-back three in transition, which probably isn't what [we wanted].

"But you've got to applaud that. You've got to say, 'he's not wilting' - he wants to make it happen. What you don't know is it's going to become a single possession game - you always have to think that way."

For about a 10-minute stretch all of his teammates did, mounting a 10-0 run that helped them pull even. The beginning and end, though, showed how far the group still has to go to become a championship team.

But here's the thing, Beilein noted: the same can be said for every other Big Ten team. Most others haven't played a road game against top 20 competition in a hostile venue, either. Those who have, like Minnesota at Indiana and Illinois at Wisconsin (not even a top 20) yesterday, have fared significantly worse.

It's the teams who steal a few on the road that will still be competing for a title in March. By then, it stands to reason U-M's freshmen will have grown up a bit. There's plenty of room for it, as evidenced by Nik Stauskas' goose egg in 23 minutes (0-for-3 three-point shooting) and struggles on the defensive end.

Beilein lamented some of the shots down the stretch when the Wolverines hoisted triple after triple during a comeback attempt, but he was pleased with the effort. Had sophomore Trey Burke's three-pointer with 16 seconds left and U-M trailing by one not rattled out, he'd have been celebrating a key road win.

"I'm so proud of them," he said. "They battled. That could have been a 30-point game. Do your homework and see how many teams are playing double digit minutes with five freshmen. They are getting better and better. They've got great attitudes, and we can't wait to coach them.

"Watching film and watching them today, Ohio State is a really, really good defensive team. You're watching a team that plays defense, buys into it and has very skilled defenders on the perimeter."

A group that provided the Wolverines their first taste of significant adversity this year, and certainly not the last. In a league in which every team knows your every move inside and out, it's how you adjust that determines where you finish.

"There's a lot that goes through to a season," Beilein said. "It's a journey. You have to embrace an important part of it today - this is terrific for us. Every coach will tell you, 'what was last team that didn't lose?' It happens. Teams that prosper from it are ones that get better from it. We hadn't played a top 20 on the road yet, and now I think we have three or four right in a row.

"There are a lot of ways you can explain [the loss]. The schedule changed in the Big Ten. Look around. You adjust to it, and good teams will get better with it. That's when to judge."


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