INDIANAPOLIS – It wasn’t the OK Corral, but Ohio State and Michigan gave the Old West a whirl. The bitter rivals countered made baskets until the scoreboard featured triple zeroes – and Michigan 72, Ohio State 69.
For the fifth-seeded Buckeyes (25-9), it marked the end of the comeback trail. For the Wolverines, it’s their first trip to the Big Ten Tournament championship game since they won the inaugural event in 1998.
“It sucks,” senior point guard Aaron Craft said.
Ohio State trailed by 16 in the first half and 12 in the second half before authoring another thrilling comeback. It stirred visions of Friday’s thriller against Nebraska.
The Buckeyes first lead was 61-60 at the 7:57 mark, and they led again 68-65 with less than four minutes remaining. But unlike Nebraska, No. 1 seed Michigan (25-7) answered Ohio State’s flurry.
The Wolverines outscored the Buckeyes 7-1 over the game’s final 3:45. During that run, Ohio State missed all five shots from the field and three of four free throw attempts.
“[Friday] I said it was going to cost of a game,” Craft said. “It’s very unfortunate it cost us today. We shoot enough of them in practice. We try to shoot them when we’re tired. We’re capable of making them. We’ve done that throughout the year. I don’t know [what to say].”
Head coach Thad Matta chose to rely on the Buckeyes’ stout defense with 44 seconds left down two points. They came up with a stop, but a failure to box out contributed to Pickerington native Caris LeVert’s game-saving rebound. Spike Albrecht made one of two free throws with 6.2 seconds left, giving Michigan a three-point lead.
Craft’s desperation three to force overtime never came because he lost control of the ball as he went up to shoot. A mad scramble ensued, and time ran out on the Buckeyes.
“I feel so fortunate right now,” Michigan head coach John Beilein said.
It’s the first time in six years Ohio State won’t play on Sunday in the Big Ten Tournament. Asked how he’d spend Sunday in Columbus, Matta was speechless and said he didn’t know.
LaQuinton Ross had 19 points, Shannon Scott finished with 18 points, six assists and three steals and Sam Thompson had 11 points.
Nik Stauskas paced Michigan – winners of seven straight – with 18 points, LeVert had 17 points and eight rebounds and Glenn Robinson III had 11 points, three steals and two blocks.
One day after a miraculous come-from-behind victory over Nebraska, Ohio State found itself facing an almost identical situation. Michigan led 15-2 before four minutes came off the clock after its triumvirate of Stauskas, Robinson and LeVert made back-to-back-to-back threes to open the game.
The lead grew to 32-16 midway through the first half, as the Wolverines made seven of their first nine threes. But Ohio State ended the half on a 21-9 run, thanks to a trio of threes from Marc Loving, Scott and Craft.
Michigan scored four points in the final six minutes.
“I feel like as a team when our head’s underwater, we start fighting more,” Scott said. “We started doing that again today.”
For the second straight day, Ohio State received a lifeline from its bench. It was Amedeo Della Valle on Friday and Scott’s turn on Saturday. He made 7 of 10 shots from the field, including four threes, and applied pressure on the defensive end.
“Shannon was tremendous. He got us back in the basketball game,” Matta said. “Conversely, on the defensive end he was really creating havoc done there. I was really happy to see him playing at that level.”
The Buckeyes shot 52 percent from the field in the first half and 48.2 percent for the game. They made seven threes on the heels of making 18 of 71 the previous six games. But when your opponent shoots better than 50 percent from every area on the court, it poses problems, hence the constant double-digit deficits.
“Our head was underwater,” senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said “We fought back. But we didn’t have the toughness to get that last rebound.”
A 56-44 Michigan advantage with less than 14 minutes evaporated in six minutes after Ohio State limited the Wolverines to one field goal over an eight-minute span. There were three lead changes in the final seven minutes, with Michigan going on top for good with 2:55 left.
Craft spent almost 10 minutes on the bench in the second half due to foul trouble, and his absence coincided with the Buckeyes’ late rally. They outscored Michigan 17-11 with Craft on the bench and couldn’t withstand his missed free throws, a three-pointer that rattled in and out and a last-second turnover.
“I’m disappointed in myself,” Craft said. “I came down the stretch and didn’t make free throws and missed a couple shots our team needed.”
The Big Ten Tournament history for these archrivals differs greatly. Ohio State’s won five championships, more than any other program, and had won 13 of its past 14 tournament games. Michigan hadn’t won consecutive games in the conference tournament since the last millennium. Their record against the Buckeyes: 0-6.
Despite the loss, Ohio State enters the NCAA Tournament with a semblance of momentum. They’re 9-4 since Feb. 1 with five wins over teams that’ll hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
“We’re a better basketball team today than when we got here,” Matta said. “Some guys showed that they can make plays when they need to make plays. We learned a lot about our defense. We’ve got four or five days to continue to build on this.”
Said Ross: “We gave people a different view of Ohio State basketball.”