Ann Arbor — It could have been the specter of falling below .500 for the first time since 2010 or the threat of being swept by another rival.
It may have been erasing the memory of a five-game losing streak and several close losses in the final minutes and overtime.
It might have been a last-ditch effort to make a run toward a postseason tournament.
Whatever the motivation, Michigan played one of its best games in weeks.
With a strong first half offensively and some good defense on one of the best players in the Big Ten, UM pulled out a surprising 64-57 victory over No. 24 Ohio State on Sunday afternoon at Crisler Center.
"It's a good win for us and one that is very-much needed," coach John Beilein said. "We have a tradition of not singing the fight song if we don't win — so that locker room has been starved for the fight song for several weeks. Our guys sang it with a lot of gusto today."
Spike Albrecht scored 16 points and had five assists and Zak Irvin added 15 points, seven rebounds and a career-high four assists for Michigan (14-13, 7-8 Big Ten), which won for the first time since Jan. 27.
First win against a Top 25 team for the Wolverines this season.
"We fought really hard today, played with a lot of heart and had that energy from the get-go," said Albrecht, who played 38 minutes. "This is one of those wins we needed; we couldn't afford to let this one slip away."
UM led by as many as 20 points in the first half but had to hold off a second-half surge by Ohio State (19-8, 8-6) in the final minutes.
Buckeyes freshman D'Angelo Russell, the Big Ten's leading scorer in conference games, scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half, including eight straight during a critical 14-0 run that trimmed UM's 17-point lead to three with seven minutes remaining.
But Irvin answered with a 3-pointer — his first points of the second half — with 6:05 remaining to end the Wolverines' seven-minutes scoring drought. Jae'Sean Tate answered with a basket on an inbounds play but Albrecht had a lay-in to keep the lead at six.
Max Bielfeldt missed the front end of a one-and-one situation that could have extended UM's lead, but Tate (two) and Russell (one-and-one) combined to miss three straight free throws. Bielfeldt had two offensive rebounds and dove on a loose ball for extra possessions, keeping Michigan in it.
Irvin got a lay-in with 1:03 left and Albrecht added a steal and a pair of free throws with just under a minute remaining to boost the lead to 60-50. At one point in the final minutes, Ohio State was denying Albrecht the ball, hoping to get a turnover from one of the other Wolverines.
"Who would have thought three years ago when I was recruiting him that he would play 40 minutes and a team as good defensively as Ohio State would be in a full denial on Spike Albrecht?" Beilein said. "When you have heart and you love to play …"
Sam Thompson (11 points) followed with a 3-pointer to cut the lead to seven but Michigan held on in the final minute, with two more free throws from Albrecht and a breakaway basket by Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman with 23 seconds left to seal it.
Michigan had the hot hand offensively early, hitting 6 of its first 10 field goals, including eight points in the first six minutes by Irvin. UM jumped to a 15-6 lead after a 3-pointer by Albrecht with 13:17 left.
The Wolverines led 31-11, after a 3-pointer by walk-on Andrew Dakich — his first points of the season — and led 39-23 at halftime.
"Give them credit, they came out banging shots and we weren't able to draw the line and get the stops we needed," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "We dug ourselves in such a hole and they did a good job of answering every time we made a run in the first half and they made some big plays in the second half when we cut it down.
"I was shocked. Early on, I was telling myself don't panic — we'll get through this and finally I was trying to get them ignite and get going a little bit.