The Ohio State Buckeyes and the Michigan Weasels played a barn-burner on Feb. 21 that unfortunately saw the villains leave Value City Arena victorious by a score of 92-87. But that was the regular season, and Saturday’s matchup was the postseason; and not only was it the postseason, it was the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Coming into the contest, the Buckeyes were 6-1 in the B1G Tournament against the Corn and Blue, with TTUN claiming the last tourney game played between the programs back in 2014.
After two unnecessarily close games in their first two postseason contests, the Buckeyes added another notch to their rivalry record as Chris Holtmann’s fifth-seeded squad picked up an unfathomably big win over Juwan Howard’s top-seeded Meerkats 68-67 in the semifinals of the conference tournament. And, as is their style, the Buckeyes allowed a double-digit lead to nearly completely slip away in the game’s final minutes, but by the grace of Fred Taylor, held on for the win. They will now face the winner in Saturday’s other matchup between second-seeded Illinois and third-seeded Iowa.
Coming into the game, both squads were without major contributors as TTUN’s second-leading scorer Isaiah Livers was out due to a foot injury, and OSU’s glue-guy Kyle Young missed the game after suffering an inadvertent elbow to the head early in the second half against Purdue, after tying a single-game career high with 18 pints in the first half alone.
In their February contest, the two teams combined to shoot 53.4% from the floor, so lots of analysts, including CBS’s studio crew, expected a high-scoring contest between the two rivals. However, that is not how the game played out, at least in the opening half. The Buckeyes took the early 2-0 lead just over a minute into the contest, and they held that lead until the Fighting Hugh Jackmans got a Hunter Dickinson jumper to fall at 10:02 in the first period to go up 16-14.
The two squads traded the lead for the next few minutes, until TTUN went on a 7-0 run to go up by as many as 4. However, the feisty Buckeyes fought back to close the deficit to a single point heading into the locker room.
Through 20 minutes, Ohio State was 10-for-33 (30.3%) from the floor while the Ferrets were an even worse 8-for-27 (29.6%). Justice Sueing led the Bucks with six points, while Franz Wagner was the top-scorer for ❌ichigan with eight.
Saturday was TTUN’s second game in as many days and the third for OSU since Thursday, and considering that both squads were missing key contributors, they looked a little tired in the first half. Not only from a physical perspective — as shots were suffering because it looked like players on both sides didn’t have enough explosion in their legs to get the height they needed on jumps — but also from the mental side of things as well.
Both teams struggled to get good shots, and while there were only five turnovers in the half, nothing felt crisp on either end of the floor for either team. The Buckeyes’ two best players (E.J. Liddell and Duane Washington Jr.) combined to go 5-for-17 (29.4%) from the floor with just 10 points.
Coming out of the intermission, everything changed for the Ohio State offense. Whatever Holtmann said in his halftime speech especially resonated with his two leading scorers as Liddell and Washington were nearly unstoppable early in the second half. As the Buckeyes built a lead, the two combined to score the first 22 for OSU in the half, with each claiming 11.
Washington was doing it from downtown hitting 4-of-6 from distance, with Liddell connecting on a pair of his own. Washington finished with 24 points, 19 of which came in a remarkable second half effort.
But, because this is #TheOhioStateBasketballExperience, nothing is easy. The buckeyes were up 11 with just 3:18 remaining in regulation, but thanks to turnovers and suddenly going cold, the Muskrats cut the lead to just 1 with 48 seconds remaining. TTUN went on an 11-1 run in the 2:12 leading up to a Chaundee Brown three pointer that cut the lead to 68-67.
But, with 28.7 seconds left, Howard played for a final shot and Mike Smith settled for a step-back jumper that went wanting, and the Buckeyes hang on for the third-straight heart-stopping game and will now play for the B1G Tournament title on Sunday afternoon.
Now that you’ve got the nuts and bolts of what happened in Saturday’s matchup, I am going to
subject you allow you inside my cluttered mind with a stream of consciousness that I typed out as I watched the game.
20:00- As Ohio State basketball legend Joey Lane told me in the LGHL podcast on Wednesday, he thought that Holtmann would rely on Musa Jallow’s defensive prowess during the postseason. And, with Young out of the game, Jallow got the start
19:14- Justice Sueing is going to need to have a big game without Young on the floor. He pulled down the first rebound of the game, and there will need to be more of that.
18:16- Following an attempted turnaround jumper the Muskrats 7-foot-2 center Hunter Dickinson came down grabbing his hand. There was no injury apparent on the replay, but after a trip down the floor, the big man left the game to get his hand looked at.
I’m never one to hope for someone to get hurt just because they are the opponent of the team that I am rooting for, but I think in the grand scheme of things, I’m not totally broken up about a literal giant hurting his hand a little bit.
17:05- The moment that Ohio State fans have been waiting for. Justin Arhens got the ball on a catch-and-shoot and hit his first three-point attempt of the game. If Young is going to be out, going young might be the best lineup idea for Holtmann, and if Ahrens is able to get some separation and knock down buckets, this might actually work.
14:14- Dickinson — the B1G Freshman of the Year — is back in the game.
12:30- I tweeted this an hour and a half before the game started, right after the news that Young wouldn’t be playing was confirmed. I was obviously kidding, but nonetheless, Ibrahima Diallo did get into the game, fairly early in the first half. He had played a total of 10 minutes across four games all season, and hadn’t seen the floor since Dec. 13.
He entered the contest with a single point this season, and it came back on the day before Thanksgiving against Illinois State.
10:47- The Buckeyes have fallen in love with the three a few times this season, but so far on Saturday, they’ve been lights out. They are 4-for-6 from deep, with E.J. Liddell, Ahrens, and Sueing all connecting from distance.
10:02- Thanks to a Dickinson baby hook, TTUN took their first lead of the game. Holtmann’s gotta find a way to make things difficult for him. You’re never going to completely stop him without having a big man of his size to guard him underneath. But, if they can just do enough to chip away at his comfortability down low — whether that’s with double-teams, a zone, running guys at him from different angle, whatever.
07:40- The Buckeyes have been really good from downtown... from inside the arc though, not so much.
They’ve only had one two-point bucket so far, that does not seem sustainable. But, our man Joey Buckets thinks it’s actually a good sign that the Buckeyes are only down one point shooting this poorly from two-point territory.
Getting great 2-point looks, they’ll fall. Love our defensive effort so far.— Joey Lane (@JoeySmoke14) March 13, 2021
07:04- And as if I typed it into existence, C.J. Walker has a smooth reverse layup to get OSU’s second two-point bucket of the game to put the buckeyes up 19-18.
05:36- The defense that Holtmann’s squad has shown has been tremendous so far. Yes, Dickinson is still scoring at will, but OSU is making life difficult on everybody else wearing blue.
Dickinson scoring over the triple team welp https://t.co/7KUGTFxELW— Connor Lemons (@lemons_connor) March 13, 2021
Holtmann and the Buckeyes are clearly trying to figure out ways to low Hunter The Giant down, but when your biggest contributor (no offense Ibrahima) is five inches shorter than your opponent’s center, that’s a recipe for disaster.
04:05- This made me chuckle:
Have heard it a million times but still get a chuckle out of the fact that there's a Harvard graduate and a kid who should be a senior at Garfield Heights High School out on the court together trying to send Ohio State to the Big Ten championship game.— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) March 13, 2021
01:58- On yesterday’s Instant Recap podcast, I noted that one of the reasons that Ohio State were able to beat Purdue was that they were 16-of-18 from the free throw line, while the Boilermakers were 15-for-27. Welp, so far, OSU is 0-for-4 from the charity stripe while the Men from the Mitten State are 6-for-6.
Did I jinx it? I don’t believe in jinxes, and I don’t live in #Fansville, so I think I’m safe.
01:22- Look, I know he’s good, and he’s having a great game on both ends of the floor, but the way that Bill Raftery is gushing about Franz Wagner right now is approaching Dan Dakich levels of annoyance right now.
Bill Raftery talking about Franz Wagner right now. pic.twitter.com/kPogZl0byG— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) March 13, 2021
00:32- With Ohio State down four, and less than a minute left in the first half, the Buckeyes got into their halfcourt offense and Seth Towns continued to move without the ball when things began to stagnate and found himself open in the corner with just enough time to get off his second three-point attempt of the game. This one went in and sent the Buckeyes into the locker room down just one point, 27-26, at the half.
Halftime- If the season’s first matchup between these two teams was an offensive extravaganza, this one was the equivalent of the traveling amusement park that sets up shop in the rundown parking lot of the K-Mart that closed seven years ago in your hometown, which you always want to go to, because the flashing neon lights look so cool as you drive by in the back seat of your parents’ minivan, but your mom and dad never let you, because those thrill rides are set up and taken down so often that your parents don’t trust the safety protocol of a guy named Hank who is the maintenance man, ticket taker, ride operator, and cotton candy maker.
The shooting for both teams has been substandard to say the least, but
18:50- For the first time in the game, the Buckeyes got a point at the free throw line as Liddell hit a pair. OSU is averaging 16.5 points per game at the line. They’ve got a long way to go if they are going to approach that today.
17:22- As if the Buckeyes weren’t suffering enough down low already with the absence of Young, after delivering a remarkable block on TTUN’s Brandon Johns Jr., Liddell’s arm came down on Johns’ head, and both seemed to come out of it shaken up.
Liddell was grabbing his hand in obvious pain, while Johns appeared to be suffering something similar to what Kyle was going through after being hit in the head yesterday.
16:00- Fortunately, E.J. is back on the floor after the media timeout. He’s not having his best game of the season, but OSU’s chances of winning this one without him are next to nil.
14:55- That was a really bad turn of events for the Buckeyes. Sueing had a clear lane to the basket and after putting up a layup it was “blocked” by Wagner. Then, it turns into a fastbreak three pointer for Mike Smith on the other end.
However, just as Sueing was lobbying for on the other end of the floor, the replay showed that the ball had hit the backboard before Raftery’s favorite player got his hand on it. so, the refs should have called goaltending, giving OSU a bucket and erasing the transition triple.
12:52- How in the Harry Houdini did CJ Walker make that pass?
While the assist is incredible, so was the shot. At this point, Washington has eight points already in the second half, and he and Liddell are starting to take over on the offensive end for the Buckeyes.
10:21- In the two and a half minutes since that last update, Washington hit another three and Liddell completed an and-1 to put OSU up 48-43. That means that both of OSU’s best two players have gone for double-digits in the first 9:39 of the second half. After the poor shooting we witnessed in the first half, this is a remarkable run.
E.J. and Duane have combined for all 22 of the Buckeyes’ second half points thus far.
09:06- Thanks to an old-fashioned three-point play for CJ Walker, the good guys just took their first double-digit lead of the game, 53-43. This team has really turned it on on both ends of the floor in this second half. And I’m trying not to get too excited right now, because we know that no lead is safe for this team, but this could really happen, couldn’t it?
05:17- What an incredible sequence for the Buckeyes on both ends of the floor. A great effort on defense from Walker to get the steal and start a fast break. Then on the subsequent possession, Sueing got an offensive rebound and connected on the put back to get OSU back in the lead by 11. He didn’t convert on the and-1, but it was a great minute of action for Ohio State highlighted by fantastic effort on both ends.
Also — despite the Weasels’ protestations — Wagner was called for his fifth foul of the game. The Yellow and Navy’s bench thought it was only his fourth, but they were wrong, and the light of Raferty’s eyes officially fouled out.
03:40- Ohio State is up 65-55. That is a double-digit lead. This is #TheOhioStateBasketballExperience. I am feeling good... but not yet confident. The Wolves can score in bunches, and we know that this Buckeye squad can turn incredibly frustrating stretches at the drop of the hat. So, I probably won’t exhale until it’s 00:00 and OSU gets the W.
02:50- No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Don’t do this to me Buckeyes. Liddell blows a dunk on a fast break that would have put the Buckeyes up 12.
01:38- And since the blown dunk, TTUN has outscored the Bucks 6-1 and now trail just 68-62. Ohio State needs a bucket and to use some clock on this possession coming out of a UM timeout.
01:01- And he hits just keep on coming, Dickinson steals it from Liddell and lays it in. Then E.J. dribbles the ball off of his knee to give the ball back to the Rolverwines with the score 68-64.
00:48- Holy shizzle, my heart can’t take this.
00:28- And up 68-67, Walker steps out of bounds to turn it over. FFS!
00:00- Mike Smith? They let Mike Smith take the final shot? The Mike Smith who was 1-for-11 on the day? Ok, thank you for letting us win, Juwan!
Ohio State will now wait to see who they will be facing off for the Big Ten Tournament title on Sunday afternoon. The Buckeyes have the second most tournament titles since its introduction in 1999, having cut down the nets in 2007, 2010, 2011, and 2013; all under the guidance of Thad Matta. With a win on Sunday, Ohio State can move within one of the MSU Spartans Presented by Rocket Mortgage’s record of six titles. This also marks OSU’s record ninth appearance in the B1G Tournament finals, having split their previous eight trips to the championship round.
The championship game will be broadcast on CBS at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, and LGHL will have you covered with all of the information you need to know before, during, and after the game with articles, tweets, and podcasts. So, join us for what should be a great Sunday afternoon affair.