There are too many big games left to definitively say today's crushing 80-70 loss to Michigan cost Ohio State an NCAA Tournament bid but it certainly could play out to be the case. If nothing else, the defeat just put a lot more pressure on the Buckeyes as they likely need to win at least 3 of their final 5 conference games against the likes of Wisconsin, @ Indiana, @ Minnesota, Purdue and Michigan State. Yikes.
Based on what we witnessed today, there's not much reason to think OSU will answer the bell. Tied at 38 to start the second half, the Buckeyes failed maintain their focus turning the ball over 5 times, leading to just 6 points, in the first 6 minutes. Miraculously, they trailed just 50-48 at the 12:58 mark before an 8-0 run capped by a DeShaun Sims triple gave Michigan a 58-50 cushion with 10:43 on the clock.
To their credit, OSU would bounce back with a 10-2 run behind a pair of threes from Jon Diebler to cut the deficit to 60-58 with 8:08 left but turnovers and their continued inability to find the shooter on defense led to Manny Harris hitting a key three extending Michigan's lead to 69-66 after Ohio State had cut the lead to three on a natural three-point play by Evan Turner.
Thanks to Jamar Butler the sequence turned out to be only the second biggest dagger of the game. Trailing 73-68 with just over a minute to go, Butler committed his season-high 6th turnover on a lazy pass intended for Turner after foolishly picking up his dribble 35 feet from the basket.
Michigan's Kevin Grady blew the layup at the other end but, appropriately, Harris grabbed the o-board and hit 1 of 2 free throws giving the Wolverines a 74-68 lead. Harris was large all day scoring a career high 27 points (10/11 FT) and he was clutch down the stretch hitting 7/8 free throws in the final 2:41 to ensure the victory.
As a team, Michigan hit 20/24 free throws while the Buckeyes managed just 3 trips to the line. I wish I could blame the refs but the discrepancy was more the result of Ohio State settling for jumpers in the second half then being forced to foul to stop the clock and get the ball back in the final minutes. Matta's squad shot 14 threes in the final 20 minutes after attempting just 7 in the first half while scoring 24 of their 38 points in the paint. Why they got away from that remains a mystery.
Overall, Kosta Koufos led the way with 18 points and 12 rebounds however he managed just 6 points in the second half after being benched for turning it over 3 times in the first 4 minutes helping Michigan take the lead for good (46-44) with 16:32 left. The frustrating sequence followed a solid first half in which he shot a healthy 6/7 from the floor while grabbing 4 rebounds. Is it simply agonizing watching this kid. He'll light it up offensively then next thing you know he's turning the ball over and letting smaller defenders take the ball away from him. His 4 turnovers combined with Butler's 6 gave the pair 10 of OSU's 14 miscues. Butler finished with 14 points and 6 assists.
Looking at the positives, freshman Evan Turner was outstanding with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists against just 2 turnovers in 35 minutes. Turner was 7/10 from the floor proving his wrist injury is in the rear view mirror.
Diebler finished with 10 points and 5 rebounds against 0 turnovers in another solid effort. Streaky D is averaging 11.8 points in his last 4 games buoyed by a 12/26 (46%) showing from downtown.
With Turner and Diebler possibly settling into a groove it might be time to put Diebler back into the starting lineup - in place of David Lighty. I'm sure this won't happen because Matta likes the scoring punch off the bench and he's trying to stay in Lighty's corner but if nothing else, Diebler deserves more court time by comparison.
Lighty's best attribute is man to man defense which is useless in Matta's matchup zone whereas Diebler can stretch a defense which is paramount on a team that struggles to score consistently. Lighty was nothing special today with 4 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists and I counted at least 3 examples of his finest Roy Orbison Defense (Blue-by-you) allowing easy layup's for scrubs like David Merritt.
Not to be outdone, Othello Hunter turned in a lackluster 6 point, 3 rebounds performance before fouling out in 21 minutes.
Defensively, the Buckeyes allowed Michigan to shoot 44% from the field including 42% from downtown. Michigan hit 10/24 threes behind Sims and Harris. Sims registered 4 triples (4/8) on his way to 22 points teaming with Harris to score 49 of Michigan's 80 points. Ohio State did win the battle of the boards (36-30) but forced just 9 turnovers while committing 14.
I gotta admit, I'm wondering the point of the Buckeye 2-2-1 press? It yields a low turnover rate and seems to give up a lot of wide open threes as the Buckeyes scramble to identify the shooter in secondary transition. Considering the lack of depth and Butler's mounting minutes, wouldn't it be better to simply get back and zone up?
The good news is Ohio State will have a week to ponder the loss and the questions it presents. The bad news is Bo Ryan and his physical Badgers are coming to town.