With Ohio State leading Michigan by 12 points and just over 12 minutes remaining on the clock Tuesday night, Buckeyes freshman center Daniel Giddens caught the ball on the left block with his back to the basket.
Giddens took a few dribbles to back his man down into the paint, then swooped across the lane and delivered a sweeping hook shot with his right hand. After hitting nearly every part of the rim, the shot dropped and the crowd of 17.088 inside Value City Arena erupted as Ohio State stretched its lead over the Wolverines to 14 — the largest of the game.
It was the type of shot Giddens struggled to make all season, but on this night it went down. It had to go down. It was just that kind of evening for the Buckeyes as they led nearly the entire way on their way to a 76-66 victory.
“With this group of guys we have right now and just the mindset of getting better every day, this was a great team win,” Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta said. “Guys made big plays when we needed them down the stretch.”
It only takes one quick glance at the box score to see what Matta was referencing.
Ohio State put five players in double figures, but no player scored more than 13 points — Jae’Sean Tate and Marc Loving each reached that mark. The Buckeyes had eight different players score and it seemed like each and every one of them had a chance to step up at a crucial moment.
A.J. Harris came off the bench early in the game and nailed a pair of 3-pointers; Kam Williams was his usual spark, too, chipping in 10 points in his reserve role. JaQuan Lyle scored 12 points and comfortably ran the show, never looking overwhelmed. Trevor Thompson made 6-of-7 field-goal attempts from the inside for his 12 points, while Giddens was active on both ends of the floor when he came in as a sub.
“We wanted to come out and prove to ourselves that we could play well from the beginning,” Loving said.
Ohio State made Michigan uncomfortable in just about every phase of the game. The Buckeyes’ length was really effective on the defensive end, Wolverines coach John Beilein said, as Ohio State held Michigan — which played without leading scorer Caris LeVert — to just 39 percent shooting. A team that entered Tuesday night averaging more than 10 made 3-pointers per game, made just 5-of-24 shots from downtown.
Offensively, in addition to the balanced effort, the Buckeyes shot 54 percent from the field — their second-best field-goal percentage of the season. Ohio State scored 38 points in the paint and outscored Michigan’s bench, 20-9.
“I like the way we played,” Matta said. “As I told the guys after the game, I thought the cohesiveness that this team has to play with was evident out there. Everybody sort of embraced their time on the floor. I thought we had an active bench, guys were into the game.
“I’d like to bottle this up and continue to move forward.”
It’s important that happens, too, as the win over Michigan was important for Ohio State’s future. With the victory, the Buckeyes’ slim hopes of an NCAA tournament bid are still alive. And with three of the four remaining games in the regular-season against top-tier Big Ten teams, Ohio State still has more opportunities to add quality wins to its resume.
The victory against Michigan was just the Buckeyes’ second RPI top-50 win of the year, but they still have two games against Michigan State remaining and one with Iowa. Two of those three games are at home.
“We’re still breathing,” Tate said. “We’re still alive.”
Before Ohio State can turn its attention toward those three games at the end of the year, though, it must first go on the road to Nebraska on Saturday to play another game it simply can’t afford to lose.
The victory over Michigan was one of the Buckeyes’ most complete efforts of the season. Now, it has to continue.
“We can celebrate this one tonight,” Tate said, “but tomorrow we’ve got to get back to work.”