It was another slow start for the Buckeyes, and another tight finish.
After back-to-back losses in conference play, Ohio State needed to make a statement against the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday night. It wasn’t emphatic, but they got what they needed in the end.
The Buckeyes (14-10, 4-7 in conference) committed a slew of unforced errors in the first half, turning the ball over 10 times before the break. Those made for a very stilted early going, from throwing away a fast-break opportunity after a JaQuan Lyle steal to some ill-conceived passing after rebounds on the offensive end.
After jumping out to a 7-0 lead, the Wolverines were able to retain control for most of the first half thanks to some strong play from Muhammad Abdur-Rahkman and Derrick Walton, Jr. The Buckeyes were led by Marc Loving and sub Micah Potter, who added seven points apiece.
Ohio State kicked it into gear late in the first half, taking a 36-35 lead at the break thanks to some stout defense and some sharp Marc Loving shooting. C.J. Jackson, who started over Lyle, was cold from the field but added some serious value by grabbing a handful of boards. A 7-0 run tied the game with two minutes to play in the first—Trevor Thompson buckled in and did some dirty work for Ohio State—and the Buckeyes saw their first lead with under a minute to go before the half.
In the second, a Marc Loving three kicked things off for the Buckeyes, and Thad Matta’s starters got the Wolverine crowd riled up on an excellent block-save-forced turnover sequence from Trevor Thompson and C.J. Jackson. Physically, Ohio State looked to be very much in control of the game.
Some poor shooting from the Wolverines and a few nifty Trevor Thompson finishes put the Buckeyes up seven at the 12-minute mark, but Derrick Walton and co. didn’t go away quietly. Big shooting from Walton brought the Wolverines back within four points on several occasions, and D.J. Wilson added his own clutch trey to make the Buckeyes start sweating.
With five minutes to play, several key Buckeye contributors found themselves in foul trouble, and the Wolverines capitalized. A pair of Wilson free throws brought the game within one, and a Derrick Walton three (again) tied the ball game a minute later for Michigan.
Trevor Thompson recorded his 11th double-double of the year, passing that mark with four minutes to play. D.J. Wilson tied things up with two minutes to play with another clutch three, and a Marc Loving kiss at the other end gave the Buckeyes back the lead.
With under a minute to go, the Buckeyes were able to force a bad Michigan timeout and take advantage of the bonus to shoot free throws to help put the game away. But another Derrick Walton three let the Wolverines come roaring back to life with 26 ticks on the clock, making it a one-point game. Still, it wasn’t enough to steal back the lead, and a pair of Marc Loving free throws sealed it.
3 things we learned
1) If the Buckeyes are going to make it to the postseason, it’ll be done by rebounding. With five minutes to play in the first half, Ohio State led Michigan on the boards 13-5. The Wolverines didn’t record an offensive rebound until the two-minute mark in the first. It’s an area where the Buckeyes have been able to consistently produce this season, and it’s been painfully obvious that they’re not controlling the glass in games in which they get dominated.
Ditto for turnovers. The Buckeyes still get sloppy with the basketball, and the freebies they gave the Wolverines were a big part of the reason the game went down to the wire. (Look no further than the defensive rebound that led to a telegraphed pass being picked off and turned into a Derrick Walton 3-pointer at the 8-minute mark for proof.)
2) We still don’t know what we have with Marc Loving. The Buckeye senior has taken a lot of criticism during his time in Columbus regarding his effort and consistency, but he’s capable of great heights when his shots start falling. His three-pointer to open up the second half was a catalyst for the Buckeyes to take control of the game, and his 19 points were a good showing against a solid opponent.
There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of Loving’s game; his predilection for turnovers has helped doom the Buckeyes on more than one occasion this year. But he’s also shown that he can hit big shots (3-7 from 3-point range in this game), and has been around the block enough times to handle the pressure that comes with games that stay close late. After this many years at OSU, you’d like to see Loving showing up more emphatically and more consistently, but you can’t write off his contributions.
3) When the Buckeyes are on, they’re a tournament team. There are stretches in plenty of Ohio State games when they play as though they’re ready to take on quality opposition in March. Against the Wolverines, the Buckeyes made their free throws, cleaned up the glass, and showed us what team basketball looks like. Thad Matta used his bench—Micah Potter in particular—to great effect, and it appears he’s committed to the eight-man rotation (as opposed to the seven-man squad he took so much flak for a few years ago) for the duration.
Ohio State went 24-28 from the free throw line, markedly improving on an area of serious weakness for this young team. They also dominated Michigan in the rebounding column, 42-24. The game ended up a win for Ohio State, but they’re still going to have to climb out of the Big Ten’s basement somehow. Still, there’s light somewhere up above them, and it might not be too late to seize it.