After closing out the regular season with a four-game losing streak, Ohio State has put Buckeye Nation through the wringer the last couple days in nail-biting victories over Minnesota and Purdue. The wins have been rather puzzling since the Buckeyes looked dominant in the first half of both games, only to see big leads erased in the second half. Luckily the Buckeyes have tightened up when it mattered most, or they might already be back in Columbus watching the rest of the Big Ten Tournament.
Ohio State raced out of the gate in yesterday’s quarterfinal tilt with Purdue, jumping on the back of Kyle Young, who put together the best game of his career. Young came out firing in the first half, hitting four three-pointers on his way to scoring 18 points. Coincidentally, the Buckeyes went into the halftime break up 18 points on the Boilermakers.
The Buckeyes looked to be cruising towards advancing to the semifinals for the first time since 2014 before Young took an inadvertent elbow to the head. After trying to play through the knock, Young eventually left the game and did not return. The injury is concerning for Young, as he suffered a concussion in the Michigan game last month, which caused him to miss the following game against Michigan State.
As if losing Young wasn’t enough for the Buckeyes to deal with, E.J. Liddell was saddled with some foul trouble in the second half, limiting the amount of time he was able to play. While Liddell did survive regulation without fouling out, he was disqualified from the rest of the game in overtime after picking up his fifth foul. Ohio State’s leading scorer on the season finished with 17 points, five rebounds, and five assists.
Leading the Buckeyes against Purdue in scoring was Duane Washington Jr., who scored 20 points in the overtime victory. Even though Washington paced Ohio State, there is concerns with his shot selection in closing games. After a strong first half, Washington hit just two of his 10 attempts from the field in the second half and overtime. With Young sidelined for much of the second half and overtime, as well as Liddell struggling to stay on the court, it was necessary for Washington to take the reins of the offense. Even though Washington’s aggressiveness is something the Buckeyes need, the junior has to make sure he is taking the right shots.
A change that Ohio State did make for this game was starting with CJ Walker on the bench. The move came at the request of Walker, and it’s easy to see why. Ohio State went on a seven-game winning streak with Walker coming off the bench to replace Justin Ahrens. Head coach Chris Holtmann moved Walker back into the starting lineup prior to the Iowa game, which came in the middle of a four-game losing streak for Ohio State. Walker’s willingness to go back to the bench paid off yesterday, as he finished with 10 points, seven assists, and four steals
The unsung hero of yesterday’s victory was Seth Towns, who scored 12 points in 21 minutes, including six points in overtime. Towns’ effort marked the fourth time that the Harvard transfer has scored 11 points in a game for the Buckeyes, but the first time since the Jan. 16th win over Illinois. The 21 minutes Towns played was a season-high, and the Columbus native could be called on more in today’s game, especially if Young isn’t able to play.
As if Ohio State wasn’t dealing with enough lately, they now have to take the court for the third day in a row, this time squaring off against one of the best teams in the country. When Ohio State and Michigan met late last month in Columbus, the Buckeyes pushed the Wolverines to the limit, but Michigan was just a little too much for Ohio State. The 92-87 victory for the Wolverines was a back-and-forth affair that has been tabbed as one of the best games of the regular season.
The difference in the first meeting between the rivals was Ohio State’s inability to contain Hunter Dickinson. The fabulous freshman scored a team-high 22 points, and nearly notched a double-double, pulling down nine rebounds. Not only did the Buckeyes struggle against Dickinson, but since then they have failed to slow down Iowa’s Luka Garza and Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn. The task of making life difficult for Dickinson will be even tougher if the Buckeyes are without Young in this game.
While Michigan has some youth in the paint with Dickinson, just as critical to Michigan’s title hopes is point guard Mike Smith. In the first meeting with the Buckeyes, Smith dropped seven dimes and finished with 11 points. The Columbia transfer has become more comfortable running the Michigan offense as the season has gone on. After seven games with at least three turnovers in Michigan’s first 13 games of the year, Smith has only one game of more than two turnovers since.
Smith’s best performance in a Michigan uniform came yesterday in the 79-66 win over Maryland. The senior dished out 15 assists, setting a Big Ten Tournament record. Smith also scored 18 points, which not only was a game-high for the Wolverines, but it was also a season-high for Smith.
Michigan needed some big performances from their backcourt since Dickinson and Isaiah Livers were non-existent on the offensive end against the Terrapins. Livers was held scoreless, and Dickinson finished with six points, marking just the fifth time the freshman has failed to reach double figures in scoring. Eli Brooks and Franz Wagner each scored 16 points to propel the Wolverines to victory.
Aside from Smith’s sterling performance, the biggest story from yesterday’s game was the ejection of Michigan head coach Juwan Howard, who was assessed two technicals midway through the second half after a confrontation with Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon. While there are conflicting stories of what caused the kerfuffle, Howard got the last laugh as his team earned the win, eliminating Maryland from the conference tournament.
Even though Ohio State just earned their 20th victory on the season, it’s hard to trust the Buckeyes right now. While Ohio State has been jumping out to big leads in Indianapolis, they are playing with fire by letting their opponents back in the game. That is something they absolutely cannot do against a team of Michigan’s caliber.
In the first game against the Wolverines, the Buckeyes needed all hands on deck to try and defeat Michigan, and even that wasn’t enough. Now Ohio State enters this game with Kyle Young’s status up in the air after the senior potentially suffered a second concussion in three weeks, and Justice Sueing is playing through a groin injury. While Sueing will play in today’s game, he might not be able to play at the same level we saw from him earlier in the season, especially with this being Ohio State’s third game in the last three days.
The loss of Young could be huge for Ohio State. Not only do the Buckeyes need Young’s senior leadership, but Ohio State was already having problems containing opponents with talented bigs. Zed Key could help to fill some of the void left if Young isn’t able to play, but the freshman is still working to find his way around the college game. Even though Key can do some impressive things on the defensive end, he doesn’t come anywhere close to matching Young on the offensive end.
Ohio State was playing some of their best basketball of the season heading into the first meeting with Michigan. The same can’t be said as they approach this matchup. The Buckeyes have been able to squeak by a team that was missing two of their best players, and a young Purdue team that is going to be a force in the Big Ten over the next few years. Ohio State won’t be quite as lucky this time against one of the best teams in the country. The likely loss of Young, as well as the energy the Buckeyes have expended in their first two games allows Michigan to create a little separation in the second half.
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