Michigan has won without defense before, but it took it 26 games for it to win a game without offense. That was Saturday’s win over Purdue, a victory that left players and coaches talking about a newfound toughness, energy and intensity on the defensive end of the floor.
72 hours later the Wolverines were on the road trying to win without offense once again, but the defense wasn’t there either. The result wasn’t all that surprising: a double-digit road loss.
From the opening jump, Michigan seemed to lack the energy that would be required to win in Columbus. Ohio State jumped out to an early lead, Michigan crept back in and took a modest lead of its own and then the Buckeyes took the lead back once and for all with 10:02 to play.
Ohio State hadn’t beaten a team above it in the Big Ten standings before tonight — it had only played one at home to this point — and it wasn’t going to let a chance to beat Michigan slip away. The Buckeyes held onto the lead and were able to comfortably stretch it to double digits for most of the second half.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of this performance from a Michigan perspective is that Ohio State didn’t play some incredible game and put the Wolverines away, the game was always right there for the taking. The Wolverines cut the lead to single digits on four or five difference occasions but they could never string together five or six positive possessions in a row to string together any momentum.
Michigan’s offense just couldn’t make a shot. The Wolverines had plenty of open threes and took plenty of ill-advised three — very few of them went in. The Wolverines were the better team on the offensive glass (outscoring Ohio State 11-3 in second chance points) and didn’t have many turnover issues, but just couldn’t make baskets. Michigan shot 51% on twos and 21% on threes for a 43 eFG%.
There are some scary signs that Michigan’s three-point shooters are just running out of gas. Duncan Robinson, Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin continue to struggle from three and Michigan has now had five of its eight worst three-point shooting performances in the last six games. Better defense plays a part, but shooters that usually make shots are missing open shots. The Wolverines don’t have a margin for error in any other department when the three-point shot isn’t falling.
The Buckeyes scored 1.14 points per possession on the night, their third-best offensive performance of the Big Ten season trailing only Rutgers and Northwestern at home. While the offense struggled, there was no question that Michigan let its offensive woes affect its defense.
Ohio State overwhelmed the Wolverines by posting them up across the board. While Zak Irvin was able to exploit a mismatch against Caleb Swanigan against Purdue, Tate is the perfect type of player to overpower Irvin but still have the quickness to defend him. Tate was critical, but other Ohio State wings were also able to exploit smaller Michigan players on the block and their bigs joined in the party as well. The Buckeyes made 16-of-20 shots at the rim in the win and Michigan just couldn’t find any defensive answers. The two times that John Beilein experimented with zone looks (1-3-1 and 2-3), both resulted in dunks.
Foul trouble caught up to Michigan in the second half as the Buckeyes were in the bonus with over 10 minutes to play. On the game, Ohio State shot 23 free throws to 50 field goal attempts and its efficiency at the stripe (73%) kept the Wolverines at bay down the stretch.
This Michigan team just continues to teeter up and down along the bubble. This was Michigan’s first loss against a team outside of the top-50, but coming on the road it wasn’t really a surprise for a team that’s rarely accomplished the unexpected.
Frankly, it’s hard to say where this team goes from here. The feel good story of working Caris LeVert back into the rotation appears to be closer to a pipe dream as he was unable to practice over the last few days despite playing on Saturday and holding a press conference about his recovery on Monday.
Beilein reported after the game that the main rotation will basically have two days off this week to try to recover their legs a bit, but a trip to College Park looms large on Sunday before what has become a must-win against Northwestern at home. The Wolverines need wins and there aren’t many straightforward chances left on the schedule to get them.
- Derrick Walton: Walton shot 1-of-7 on threes and 4-of-7 inside the arc and finished with 13 points and five assists in the loss. He took way too many early clock, ill-advised threes before even running much offense for my liking which was a problem exasperated by the fact that none of them went in.
- Zak Irvin: Teams are overplaying Irvin more than anyone on the drive-and-kick and he continues to telegraph that pass which was a big reason for his four turnovers. He was the only Michigan player to hit more than one three (2-of-6) and did have some bright moments, but the turnovers have become a troubling trend of late. Irvin has given the ball away 13 times in the last four games.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman had some great takes to the rim early in each half, but was really thrown off of his game by foul trouble in both halves. He sat for a significant portion of the first half with two fouls — a stretch that didn’t really seem to kill Michigan as much as plain poor execution in the final minute — and then picked up his third before the first media timeout in the second.
- Duncan Robinson: Michigan came into the game and got Robinson a bunch of open looks, he only made one. He was never able to shake that cold start and had another disappointing offensive game with 3 points on 1-of-6 shooting. Robinson seems to have pretty clearly hit a wall with his jump shot and on the defensive end he was an even bigger liability as he struggled with Ohio State’s quickness on the wings.
- Mark Donnal: Donnal deserved some credit for creating offense with some hustle inside and finished with 17 points and seven boards (3 offensive). He could have had more though as he still missed several bunnies around the rim that he was finishing earlier on this conference season. After doing such a good job of forcing Purdue’s bigs to catch the ball further away from the basket, Donnal really struggled against Trevor Thompson on the night.
- Ricky Doyle: Doyle scored four points and recorded a turnover in 7 minutes and perhaps the most surprising element of his performance was that he went 2-for-2 at the free throw line.
- Aubrey Dawkins: Dawkins played 19 minutes in the loss and hit a big three in the first half that cut the deficit to 2, but struggled in other elements of the game. He was whistled for four fouls, including two on the same possession that helped Ohio State get to the bonus in the second half. He also had a couple bobbles around the rim that resulted in missed opportunities which could have been dunks or layups.
- Andrew Dakich: Dakich was back in the rotation with LeVert sidelined and as it always seems to go when Michigan steals minutes from him in the first half — he was on the floor for just one possession too long. Much of the positive momentum that Michigan gained with him in the game was wiped away when Lyle drove on him to setup an open three moments before Walton could check back in.
- DJ Wilson: Wilson earned some minutes at the four with Duncan Robinson and Aubrey Dawkins struggling and knocked in a nice hook shot around the rim.