Following a huge bounce-back win over Michigan State Thursday evening, No. 23 Ohio State (19-10, 12-8) had all the emotional motivation possible for today’s bout with the Michigan Wolverines (17-13, 11-9). With the Iowa Hawkeyes playing on the road tonight at Illinois on senior day, the Buckeyes had at least a puncher’s chance at a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. To achieve that, they’d have to beat the Wolverines combined with an Iowa loss.
It was senior day in Columbus, too, with six seniors (Joey Brunk, Jimmy Sotos, Cedric Russell, Justin Ahrens, Jamari Wheeler, and Kyle Young) being honored as well as E.J. Liddell, who is a junior but will enter the NBA Draft after this season. On top of that, Brunk lost his mind and scored 18 points against the Spartans Thursday, giving the Buckeyes newfound hope that maybe their thin frontcourt could hold up for one more game until the Big Ten Tournament starts.
And of course, they had a chance to complete a season sweep of their rivals from up north. That may have been the biggest motivation of all.
Young was still out with a concussion — his third in 12 months — but Zed Key returned after missing two games with an ankle injury. However, because it was senior day, Holtmann went with a starting lineup of Wheeler, Malaki Branham, Ahrens, Liddell, and Key.
Acting Michigan head coach Phil Martelli went with a starting lineup of DeVante’ Jones, Eli Brooks, Caleb Houstan, Mousa Diabate, and Brandon Johns Jr. Junior center Hunter Dickinson — who averaged 27 points per game in Michigan’s win over MSU and loss to Iowa this week — was out due to illness.
The first dead ball of the game didn’t occur until the 13:22 mark of the first half. Ohio State led 13-11 at the first media timeout, with a bucket coming from every starter but Liddell. Justin Ahrens hit two early threes, but the Wolverines grabbed three offensive rebounds to give them extra opportunities, and only trailed by two early.
Even without their leading rebounder in Dickinson, the Wolverines gave the Buckeyes problems on the glass early, and only trailed by two points at the under-eight media timeout. Michigan grabbed six offensive rebounds over the first 13 minutes, but only scored three second-chance points off of them. However, their keeping the ball out of Ohio State’s hands kept the deficit close. Buckeyes led 22-20 with 6:53 to go in the opening stanza.
Ohio State ended the first half on an 8-2 run, taking a 37-30 lead into the halftime break. Liddell led Ohio State with 10 first-half points on 3-6 shooting, plus six rebounds. Williams had 11 points for Michigan, who shot 35.1% as a team in the first half. The Buckeyes shot 55.6% as a team in the first half.
The Wolverines went on a 9-2 run to start the second half, tying it up on a Brooks three-pointer with 15:50 left in the game to make it 39-all. The Wolverines weren’t hitting shots at a high rate, but they continued to crash the offensive glass, giving themselves more opportunities and keeping the ball out of Ohio State’s hands.
By the under-eight timeout, Michigan had opened up a 58-49 lead on the Buckeyes following a lengthy dry spell that saw the Wolverines go on a 14-1 run. What had looked like an Ohio State victory early turned into a runaway Michigan lead. The Buckeyes especially had trouble with Michigan’s guards in the second half, Brooks and Jones.
Ohio State was able to get within four points in the closing minutes, but huge shots from Jones and Kobe Bufkin iced the game for the Wolverines as they knocked out the Buckeyes in Columbus. Jones led Michigan with 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Liddell led Ohio State with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Branham had 18 points as well.
Well, if you weren’t around for today’s rivalry loss, here are a few key moments and plays that carried Dickinson-less Michigan to victory in Columbus.
Justin Ahrens gets it going early
Ahrens had scored a combined 14 points over his last nine games coming into his final home game as a Buckeye. He snapped off a few threes early in this one, burying both and helping give Ohio State an early lead. His triple 30 seconds into the game gave Ohio State a 3-2 lead, and another at the 13:43 mark made it 13-11 Buckeyes.
Ahrens would finish with 12 points on 4-9 shooting over 33 minutes.
Key backs down Johns, breaks the tie
With the game tied and 7:44 remaining in the first half, Zed Key — who checked in a few minutes earlier after starting the game on the bench — backed down Johns in the paint, spun around and scored over his left shoulder. It gave Ohio State a 22-20 lead. A few moments later, Key re-aggravated his injured ankle on a rebound and went back to the locker room.
Key re-entered the game later, and finished with four points and four rebounds in seven minutes.
Williams retakes the lead for UM
Terrance Williams was Michigan’s go-to guy early, scoring 11 points on 4-6 shooting during the first half. His three-pointer with 6:28 to go in the first half gave Michigan a 23-22 lead that would dissolve just moments later on a Liddell layup.
Williams finished with 17 points on 5-9 shooting over 25 minutes.
Sir Joseph Brunk, his holiness
Leading 29-28 with 2:05 remaining in the first half, Brunk scored on each of Ohio State’s next three possessions to give the Buckeyes a 35-28 lead. It was a flurry of head fakes, spins, and pivots that had Williams and Diabate skating around, and it gave the Buckeyes a little bit of breathing room going into halftime. Brunk had eight points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting in the first half.
Brunk would finish the game with eight points and six rebounds over 25 minutes.
Brooks ties it up
Michigan started the second half on a 9-2 run, capped by a Brooks three-pointer with 15:50 remaining to make it 39-39. Moments later, Branham hit a jumper over Brooks to break the tie, but the Buckeyes decisively lost the first “four-minute war” of the second half, allowing Michigan to get right back in it. Brooks finished with 14 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals and played the entire 40 minutes.
Jones gives Michigan the lead
Trailing 43-42 with 14:18 left in the game, Jones nailed another triple —his third of the game to that point — to give the Wolverines a 45-43 lead. The Buckeyes went on a scoring drought of over three minutes in the second half, which allowed Michigan to take a small lead after trailing for much of the game. Jones finished with 21 points on 9-16 shooting, plus 9 assists and 2 steals over 34 minutes.
Brooks makes it a dozen
Leading 53-44 amidst another long Ohio State scoring drought, Eli Brooks was fouled behind the three-point line by Ahrens, sending him to the line. Brooks hit all three, giving the Wolverines a 12-point lead in a game they desperately needed to solidify their place in the NCAA Tournament.
Branham brings the Buckeyes back within four
With 5:02 left in the game and trailing by six, Branham was fouled by Jones driving to the basket, sending him to the line. Branham knocked down both shots, getting the Buckeyes back within four points with five minutes to go. Branham finished with 18 points on 6-11 shooting over 33 minutes.
Kobe Bufkins ices it
Up four points with 1:23 to go, Michigan’s Kobe Bufkin knocked down his first shot of the game — a three— to give Michigan a seven-point lead with just over a minute to go. With 1:23 left, it was 69-63 Michigan and fans started making their way to the exits.
No. 23 Ohio State (19-10, 12-8) will be the 6-seed in the Big Ten Tournament and will play their first game Thursday at roughly 9:00 p.m. ET. If they win that game, they would play again Friday night at roughly 9:00 p.m. ET. Ohio State lost to both Iowa and Rutgers, so in the case of a tie, both teams go ahead of them. Ohio State is locked in as the 6-seed.