With a chance to take a step forward in its march to the NCAA Tournament, the Michigan basketball team instead took two steps back Tuesday night. In Columbus to take on Ohio State, the Wolverines not only suffered a bad loss, but showed the same depth and injury issues that they thought they had moved on from.
Senior guard and leading scorer Caris LeVert remained sidelined, missing his 12th game out of 14 this Big Ten season, and the rest of the team looked visibly tired and sluggish. Michigan (9-5 Big Ten, 19-8 overall) missed its first five shots, and struggled to match the Buckeyes on both ends of the court.
With its postseason future suddenly in jeopardy, we look at the five key plays from the Wolverines’ loss in Columbus.
1) Aubrey Dawkins three cuts lead to 2
Though ESPN’s floor-level angle was hard for most to endure, this possession was good basketball from any angle. Even without Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, LeVert and Zak Irvin on the court, the Wolverines showed good ball movement and floor spacing and Derrick Walton works the pick and roll effectively to find an open shot for Aubrey Dawkins.
More importantly, sophomore guard Aubrey Dawkins knocked down the three to pull the game to within two. Michigan had trailed much of the first half and cutting the lead to two with just over two minutes to play gave the Wolverines what felt like a fighting chance.
Unfortunately for Michigan, 3-pointers were few and far between on Tuesday. Michigan knocked down just 5 of 24 attempts from beyond the arc, and came up short on its comeback effort.
“I’m proud of how hard we battled,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “I just wish we could have gotten some easier shots or made the ones that we did get. We didn’t get enough. Ohio State, they got us, and that’s all there is to it.”
2) Jae’Sean Tate takes over
The Wolverines’ comeback effort was cut short in part because of missed shots, but the Buckeyes were sure to pull their own weight, too. Led by forward Jae’Sean Tate, a former high school teammate of LeVert’s, the Buckeyes closed the first half with an eight point lead.
Tate took over down the stretch in the second half and turned what felt like a close game into an eight point lead at the half — Ohio State’s biggest of the opening 20 minutes. We often harp on the opening and closing minutes of each half in the Five Key Plays because they can shift the momentum of an entire game.
The stretch when Zak Irvin split a pair of free throws with Michigan down six and then Ohio State answered with an and-one layup by Tate was particularly backbreaking.
3) Buckeyes cruise control
Trailing by eight at halftime on the road, Michigan needed a strong start to the second half to have a chance at winning. The Wolverine actually got that start and were able to cut the lead to four points in the first two minutes of the half, but then the wheels fell off quickly.
Michigan committed six fouls, three turnovers and was outscored 10-5 in the half’s opening five minutes, showing serious signs of fatigue.
“The cohesiveness we have to play with was evident out there,” said Ohio State coach Thad Matta. “Everybody embraced their time on the floor. I thought we had an active bench. The guys were into the game. I’d like to bottle this up and continue to move forward.”
By the time the Wolverines’ second sloppy start of the game got cleaned up, Michigan was down by 13 and in foul trouble, with little to no hope at closing the gap.
4) Michigan makes it a game
But as strong shooting teams with efficient offenses do, the Wolverines made a minor comeback effort. In a span of 56 seconds, Michigan went on a 7-0 run to pull the game to within seven points.
It may seem small, but for a Michigan team that had an eFG% of just 43.2 percent, it was a positive step in the offensive game — and much-needed to ensure a win was still in play. As a young team, Ohio State had seen it before, and was aware of what needed to be done to stop the skid.
“The second half, I don’t know what happened, but everybody was feeling good,” said Ohio State coach Thad Matta. “I said in the timeout, ‘When we feel good we — pow! — shoot ourselves in the foot. So nobody is feeling good until this game is over,’ ”
5) Dawkins misses steal and Loving hits three
But on a night where very little went right for the Wolverines, the run was short-lived and the Buckeyes’ feet were safe.
Ohio State extended the lead to double digits and put the comeback talk to bed when Dawkins missed on a steal attempt and Buckeye forward Marc Loving, who ended the game with 13 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, turned it into a 3-pointer.
There was plenty of time left, but the way Michigan was playing, it was effectively a dagger that put the game out of reach. This felt like the best opportunity for Michigan to get back in the game once and for all and it just couldn’t get the job done.
“We had a little bit of a slow start and it was a rivalry game on the road,” Irvin said. “It was a big game for both teams. Tonight they wanted it more and they’re the better team.”