No. 16 Ohio State (15-6, 8-4) walked into the Crisler Center with a sour taste in their mouth on Saturday evening after blowing a late lead to Rutgers on Wednesday night and ultimately losing 66-64 in Piscataway. The Buckeyes — who are 3-5 on the road this season — sit on the edge of two tiers in the Big Ten. They don’t seem to be quite on the level of Illinois and Purdue right now, but they have been more consistent than teams directly below them, like Rutgers, Indiana, and Iowa. Saturday night’s game in Ann Arbor was a good measuring stick to judge just where this team sits in the B1G hierarchy.
On the other side, Michigan (13-10, 7-6) appears to be rounding into form after a sluggish start to the season. After starting the season 1-3 in conference play, they’ve won six of their last eight and entered this rivalry game just a half-game behind the Buckeyes in the league standings after smacking Purdue 82-58 on Thursday. The victory over the Boilers was the biggest win of the Wolverines’ season, and they were looking to make it back-to-back home wins with their rival in town.
Ohio State announced before the game that Meechie Johnson Jr. was unavailable due to an ankle injury suffered at Rugters, but Eugene Brown III was available after missing two games with a foot injury. Justice Sueing remained sidelined with a lower abdominal injury. With Johnson unavailable, Chris Holtmann went with a lineup of Jamari Wheeler, Malaki Branham, Brown, E.J. Liddell, and Zed Key — who was coming off of a double-double at Rutgers. Saturday marked Brown’s first career start.
Michigan head coach Juwan Howard countered with Devante’ Jones, Eli Brooks, Caleb Houstan, Moussa Diabate, and Hunter Dickinson; all five of whom scored in double digits Thursday against Purdue.
Neither team was able to find much rhythm early, with both squads coming up empty-handed on their first three possessions. The Wolverines were dead-set on feeding Dickinson the ball inside, and gave him a touch on five of their first six possessions. Two missed assignments on switches led to four early Diabate points, however, Michigan led just at the first media timeout, 6-4.
The two teams continued to brick jumpers and miss mostly-open shots, scoring only 14 points apiece by the under-8 media timeout. Despite being out-rebounded early, five Wolverine turnovers kept Ohio State right there with their rivals.
Ohio State went into the halftime break with a slim 33-30 lead, thanks to 11 points from Liddell and seven from Cedric Russell. The Buckeye bench outscored Michigan’s 11-2 in the first half. Dickinson and Brooks had eight apiece for the Wolverines over the first 20 minutes.
Liddell was criticized a bit after the Rutgers game for not being more assertive down the stretch during their loss. On Saturday, he went after every Wolverine in his path as if he had a personal vendetta against each of them individually. His four points in the opening minutes of the second half — plus another deep three from Russell — gave Ohio State a 10-point lead with 14 minutes remaining.
The Buckeyes — namely Liddell and Russell — kept punching for Ohio State, but Dickinson and Co. kept the Buckeyes close throughout the second half. At the final media timeout with 3:32 remaining, the Buckeyes led 57-49, which was the same lead (eight) they had at Rutgers on Wednesday night in the final four minutes.
However, thanks to some crucial Young free throws and a clutch Branham jump-shot from just in front of Ohio State’s bench, they did not blow the lead, and came away with a massive victory in Ann Arbor, 68-57.
If you weren’t able to catch all of this red-hot rivalry matchup in Ann Arbor, here are some of the moments that mattered during Ohio State’s big victory over the reigning Big Ten champs.
Wheeler grabs the lead
After going down 6-2 early, Wheeler went on a mini-run on his own to give Ohio State their first lead of the game. Following a dunk by Brown, Wheeler hit a three from the top of the key on the next possession, cutting Michigan’s lead to 8-7.
On the very next trip, Wheeler streaked to the basket on a fast break, and scored over top of the seven-footer Dickinson. Ohio State led 9-8 at the 12:56 mark in the first half.
Wheeler would finish with seven points on 2-4 shooting over 27 minutes.
Russell’s triple ties it
After scoring three points against Rutgers and not scoring at all against Maryland last weekend, Russell saw early playing time against the Wolverines. He checked in at the 16:40 mark of the first half and his three-pointer from the top of the key at the 8:28 mark tied the game at 14.
Russell tied his season-high with 12 points on 5-8 shooting over 24 minutes, which was also a season-high.
Brooks corner three puts UM back in front
Down 21-20 with just over four minutes remaining in the first half, Brooks connected on a three-pointer from the right corner, turning the tables and giving the Wolverines a 23-21 lead. Brooks would finish with a team-high 17 points on 6-16 shooting.
Joey Brunk with the finesse
With one minute left in the half and Ohio State up 31-28, Holtmann subbed transfer big man Joey Brunk in for Liddell to avoid foul trouble in the closing moments. After a Houstan layup, Young got the ball to Brunk on the left block, who was guarded by Dickinson. Brunk took two dribbles to his left, spun around, and went over top of Dickinson with a left-handed hook shot. It dropped and Ohio State took a 33-30 lead into the halftime break. It was Brunk’s only bucket of the game.
Cows mooing, but Liddell knocks down the FT’s
About three minutes into the second half — and with Ohio State leading 39-34 — Liddell was fouled by Diabate on the baseline, sending him to the line for two free throws. As he was shooting his FTs, three students dressed in head-to-toe cow costumes behind the basket began doing a motion that looked like they were milking a cow’s udders.
Liddell, unfazed by the local dairy farmers behind the basket, hit both free throws to give Ohio State a 41-34 lead. Liddell finished with a team-high 28 points on 8-17 shooting. He also blocked three shots.
Jones’ layup cuts it to six
With Ohio State leading 48-40 and seven minutes remaining, Brooks found a streaking Jones down the left side with a three-quarter court pass that Jones caught and laid in over a leaping Liddell. It cut Ohio State’s lead to six points.
Jones would finish with 8, points, 8 assists, and 10 rebounds, not too far off from a triple-double.
Ohio State had an eight-point lead at Rutgers on Wednesday night with under four minutes to go and subsequently crumbled. Ironically enough, Russell’s baseline jumper with 3:32 remaining gave Ohio State that exact same size lead, 57-49. Moments later, Brooks hit a three-pointer from the left wing, making it 57-52 Buckeyes.
Branham’s long jumper ices it
Up six with 2:03 to play, Dickinson popped the ball out of Liddell’s hands below the basket, directly to Wheeler. Wheeler then passed to Branham, who took one dribble and pulled up a few steps inside the three-point line, right in front of the OSU bench. He buried it, giving the Buckeyes a 61-52 lead with just 123 seconds to play.
No. 16 Ohio State (15-6, 8-4) returns home for their next three games, starting with Minnesota (11-10, 2-10) Tuesday, Feb. 15 at the Schottenstein Center. The Gophers have lost nine of their last 10 games, including a 75-64 loss to the Buckeyes back on Jan. 27.
Ohio State will look to extend their home unbeaten streak to 11 games, the longest such streak that they’ve had since the 2014-15 season. The game will be broadcast on BTN at 8:30 p.m. ET.