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Ohio State can’t complete comeback in Ann Arbor, falls to Michigan 73-65

Despite going on a 16-0 run in the second half, Ohio State wasn’t able to hang on in Ann Arbor and lost their third consecutive game.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Losers of two in a row entering Monday’s contest against Michigan, the Ohio State men’s basketball team (12-5, 2-4) traveled to Ann Arbor looking to knock off the Wolverines (7-10, 2-4) to get its season back on track. On top of that, the Buckeyes have lost their last two games to the Wolverines, having last beaten the maize and blue February 12, 2022.

While Ohio State has had a rough go of it lately with losses in each of its last two, the Wolverines have been even worse, losing five straight and eight of their last 10. The main culprit? A porous defense that gave up 87 points to McNeese, 94 to Long Beach State, and is currently a Big Ten-worst 144th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency ranking.

With two teams facing off who can’t seem to get out of their own way, we had a classic “stoppable force meets very movable object” situation going on Monday afternoon.

Ohio State, despite its struggles, stuck with the same starting lineup its used all season: sophomores Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle, Evan Mahaffey, and Felix Okpara alongside senior forward Jamison Battle. Juwan Howard’s Wolverines countered with Dug McDaniel, — who was available because his suspension is only road games — Nimari Burnett, Terrence Williams, Olivier Nkamhoua, and Tarris Reed.

Thornton and Mahaffey each scored four points in the opening minutes, helping the Buckeyes establish an early lead on the road. Ohio State knocked down three of its first five shots to take an 8-5 lead at the first media timeout, but Battle fouled Nimari Burnett shooting a three-pointer with 15:31 remaining, sending him to the free throw line with a chance to tie it up. He hit two of three, so the Buckeyes held a one-point lead for the time being.

After Ohio State went up 13-10, the Wolverines went on an 11-2 run to jump ahead by half a dozen points with 8:35 left in the first half. Nkamhoua was knocking down some really tough shots for Michigan, including multiple baseline jumpers over the outstretched arms of Okpara, who is 6-foot-11.

Ohio State cut the deficit to four with 1:28 left in the half, but Michigan ended with five unanswered points — including a McDaniel buzzer-beating-three — to take a 37-28 lead at the break. Michigan shot 41.2% overall and 63.6% from three-point range in the first half, while Ohio State shot 32.3% in the first half and 7% (1-14) from three-point range. Royal and Thornton both had seven points in the first half, while Nkamhoua had a dozen in the first half for Michigan.

Mahaffey continued to have what was maybe his best all-around offensive game of the season, scoring two more times in the first three minutes of the second half to push his point total to eight — his second-highest total of the season — with 17 minutes still to go. Battle also chipped in his first three-pointer of the game and a vicious dunk over Reed for five quick points, as Ohio State cut the Michigan lead to 43-39 just 3:23 into the second half.

Despite cutting it to four multiple times, Ohio State still trailed by that identical nine points by the under 12-timeout, 52-43. Both teams hit exactly six shots over the first eight minutes of the second half, but unfortunately for the Buckeyes, the hole they dug themselves in the first half meant they couldn’t afford to let Michigan go shot-for-shot with them anymore. After Gayle scored four consecutive points to make it 47-43, Michigan responded with a two-point jumper from Nkamhoua and a three from McDaniel to go back up 52-43 with 12 minutes to go.

But, much to the shock of the maize and blue-clad fans in attendance, Ohio State answered with an unlikely (impossible?) 16-0 run over the next 3:48, taking a 59-55 lead over Michigan with 7:21 left in the game. Thornton and Gayle were the catalysts by getting to the basket and free throw line, but Okpara and even Dale Bonner got in on the fun. The three-pointers that were falling at an alarming rate for Michigan for most of the game dried up for just a few minutes, and in that time Ohio State knocked down six out of seven shots to halt and reverse the momentum.

But, as expected playing on the road, Michigan swung back with back-to-back baskets from Burnett and Nkamhoua to go back ahead, 60-59. After a loose ball scrum, Roddy Gayle was able to snag it and slam home a dunk with 4:23 remaining to put the Buckeyes back up, 61-60.

However, as it’s gone the last week or two, the Buckeyes weren’t able to get the critical stops it neended on the defensive end in the closing minutes, eventually falling to the Wolverines, 73-65. The spirited run was for naught, as Ohio State picked up its third consecutive loss in Big Ten play. The Wolverines outscored Ohio State 13-4 the rest of the way after that Gayle dunk.

Nkamhoua led Michigan with 20 points on 9-of-21 shooting in 37 minutes on Saturday. He also had six rebounds and a team-high four assists. Williams (18 points, 5-5 from three point), and McDaniel (15 points) both scored in double digits as well for Michigan. The Wolverines shot 42.2% as a team and were 12-of-23 (52.2%) from distance.

Thornton led Ohio State with 19 points on 8-of-19 shooting, including 2-of-7 from three-point range. He also had six rebounds and three steals, but only one assist. Gayle (12 points) and Okpara (10 points) were both in double digits as well. The Buckeyes shot 37.9% overall and were 3-of-25 (12%) from three-point range.

If you weren’t around Monday afternoon to see the Buckeyes drop another tough one in Ann Arbor, here are a few key moments that ultimately led to the Wolverines prevailing and snapping their five-game losing streak:


Devin Royal, Evan Mahaffey chipped in early

Gayle, Thornton, and Battle have pretty firmly established themselves as Ohio State’s only reliable scoring options to this point in the season, but when two of them are off (or all three), the Buckeyes struggle because nobody else has played consistently well. One of the players who showed above-average instincts to get the ball in the basket in high school is Devin Royal, who to this point has averaged just 2.1 points per game.

During the first half, however, Royal chipped in back-to-back baskets to put the Buckeyes up 15-13 in the first half. The baskets were Royal’s first points he’d scored since December 21 against New Orleans. Royal ended the game with seven points — his second-highest total of the season — on 3-of-6 shooting in seven minutes. He also grabbed three rebounds.

Mahaffey, who is averaing 3.6 points per game and whose spot in the lineup is one that Ohio State fans have talked a lot about over the last few weeks, also chipped in four points in the opening minutes of this game, and finished with eight points on 3-of-5 shooting in 23 minutes. He also had five rebounds.


Wolverines used the three-ball to keep them afloat in the first half

Michigan had a hell of a hard time putting the ball in the basket from anywhere other than three-point land over the first 10 minutes or so of this game, hitting one of its first nine shots from two-point range, but three of its first seven threes. They did what they had to do to just keep things close early on, before really pouring it on later in the first half and going into the break up nine. Five different Wolverines hit at least one three-pointer on Monday afternoon.


Nkamhoua presents a unique challenge

Olivier Nkamhoua, a transfer forward from Tennessee, presented a unique challange for Ohio State. He was too much of a scoring threat for Battle to guard and too much of a shooter for Key to hang with, so for the most part it was Okpara and Gayle guarding the 6-foot-9 forward. He scored a team-high 12 in the first half, including two three-pointers and multiple baseline jumpers over the outstretched hands of Okpara where Nkamhoua had to alter the arc of his shot higher to get it over the Buckeyes’ center.


McDaniel at the buzzer

The Buckeyes cut the Wolverines’ 10-point lead to just four with a minute remaining in the first half, but after a Tarris Reed layup made it six, McDaniel ran off a screen, caught the inbounds pass from Williams, and knocked down a buzzer-beating three from the very top to make it 37-28 Wolverines at halftime. It was McDaniel’s second three-point make of the game, at the time, despite going 3-for-10 overall. McDaniel, who finished with 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting in 39 minutes, also had three rebounds, four assists, and turned the ball over three times.


Burnett gets up, forces a tie-up rather than an open dunk for Okpara

With Ohio State trailing Michigan 43-39 with 16:12 remaining, the 6-foot-11 Okpara went for a dunk, but it was blocked by a sprinting Burnett, who was able to get a hand on the ball before he flew out of bounds and into the padding below the basket. Okpara came back down with the ball and had an open basket for a dunk, but the whistle blew and a held ball was called, with the possession arrow in Michigan’s favor.

On the other end, Okpara fouled Tschetter below the basket, and Michigan’s sophomore backup center swished both to make it 45-39 Michigan, rather than 43-41.

Okpara ended the game with 10 points, nine rebounds, and four blocks in 35 minutes. Burnett had seven points, 10 rebounds, four assists, one block, and one steal in 37 minutes.


Michigan takes its biggest lead of the day on yet another three

After cutting it to four with 13:47 left, Michigan went on an 8-0 run to give the Wolverines their biggest lead of the day, 55-43, courtest of a Terrence Williams three-pointer. It was Michigan’s ninth three-point make of the day, and Williams’ third by himself. Williams would go on to hit two more in the second half after that, finishing a perfect 5-for-5 from deep after entering the game as a 41.7% three-point shooter.


Ohio State responds with 16-0 run, take a late lead

After falling behind by a dozen and looking dead in the water with 12 minutes remaining, the Buckeyes responded with a 16-0 run, led by Gayle and Thornton who attacked the basket with no mercy against the likes of Burnett, McDaniel, and Jace Howard. Over a span of 3:48, Ohio State knocked down six of seven shots and hit three free throws, while Michigan missed eight consecutive shots and the Buckeyes went ahead, 59-55.


Williams’ three hits every bit of the rim, bounces in to put Michigan back up

After Ohio State retook a 61-60 lead, Williams took a three-pointer from dead center on top of the key that bounced around, hit every bit of rim it could find, and eventually dropped in to give Michigan a 63-61 lead with 3:37 left in the game.


Up Next:

Ohio State (12-5, 2-4) returns home to face Penn State (8-9, 2-4) on Saturday afternoon at the Schottenstein Center. The Nittany Lions have a tough week ahead of them, as they will welcome No. 15 Wisconsin to the Bryce Jordan Center Tuesday night before heading to Columbus on Saturday.

The last time these two teams met, Ohio State bungled away an 18-point second-half lead and ultimately lost on the road to the ‘Nits, 83-80.

Ohio State’s game against Penn State on Saturday will tip off at noon and will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.