ANN ARBOR, Mich. – This was an opening that has typically spelled doom for Ohio State as of late. Playing on the road against a Big Ten foe, the Buckeyes came up empty on their first three possessions and found themselves down by a touchdown barely two minutes into the game.
Then it got worse. Ohio State started making shots but Michigan didn’t stop, and when Duncan Robinson hit a three-pointer with 14:23 left in the first half it pushed the Wolverines’ lead to 11 points at 19-8.
But then a funny thing happened. Micah Potter drained a three-pointer and ran back upcourt while shushing the Crisler Center crowd. It started an 8-0 run that helped the Buckeyes pull back into the game and, eventually, emerge with a 70-66 win.
“It wasn’t a position we hadn’t been in before,” senior Marc Loving said. “We just had to band together. We’ve had our team meetings. We’ve had film sessions. I feel like we’re more than capable of banding together and getting the lead but I’m just happy we were able to actually convert.”
Let’s be clear: One win doesn’t a season make. The win inched the Buckeyes to 4-7 in conference play, still just one loss from tying the program record during coach Thad Matta’s 13 years.
But for at least one night, they followed what has to be the blueprint for success. They hit free throws. They hit the glass – particularly on the offensive end. They defended. And, maybe not surprisingly, they won.
Coach Thad Matta was asked if this is the type of team Ohio State has to be without Keita Bates-Diop.
“We are, and at times we don’t figure that out,” he said. “Hopefully tonight’s a good lesson for us to come in here because we beat a really, really good basketball team. That’s got to be our calling card, because we’ve lost a lot of size and length with Keita. It really shrinks us down a little bit, but our young kids are growing up. They’re playing good basketball.”
The kids might be all right. Potter chipped in seven points off the bench and played decent defense. Freshman Andre Wesson had five rebounds, four of them on the offensive end, in 16 minutes as the Buckeyes grabbed 16 offensive rebounds.
All eight Ohio State players to see game action played at least 11 minutes.
“Micah and Andre really came in and gave us some energy, gave us some lift,” Matta said. “I think we fed off of Andre there and did a great job. They switch a lot, so we had some advantages in there size-wise but guys pursued the ball and did a heck of a job with that.”
Of the remaining eight Big Ten games on the schedule, this was tied with next weekend’s game at Maryland for the worst chance for an Ohio State win according to KenPom.com. The Buckeyes were given a 25 percent chance of beating the Wolverines and projected to finish 17-14 overall and 7-11 in the conference.
Those numbers didn’t change with this win, but Ohio State’s chance of winning against the Terrapins next Saturday did increase by two percent.
The Buckeyes moved up from No. 13 in the Big Ten standings to No. 11 with the win and host cellar-dweller Rutgers on Wednesday night. Finishing 10 th or higher would allow Ohio State to bypass the opening day of the Big Ten tournament.
Ohio State is now 5-9 against top-100 RPI teams with two of those wins against top-50 teams (Minnesota and Michigan State).
Sophomore guard C.J. Jackson started in place of JaQuan Lyle and, in the process, got his first taste of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry
I asked if anyone had talked to him about the rivalry between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines.
“Not too much on the basketball end of it,” he said. “I know how big it is for football. This is a big win for us not only because it is the team up north, but just the next step for us as a team and progressing our season.”
Senior Marc Loving, who grew up in Toledo, enjoyed it.
“Being from Toledo, a lot of the city is split half and half,” he said. “Yeah, it means a lot being a Buckeye and growing up as a Buckeye fan. It feels good to get a victory in here. The last time we were in here, we got embarrassed so playing against the team up north is always fun. Getting a W is fantastic.”
The Buckeyes had lost three straight games here and hadn’t won since a 68-64 win on Jan. 12, 2011.
“We needed this one. It was something we had to bear down and just grit our teeth and go out there and take. One time was our motto for the game and we came up with the victory. This is today. All you’ve got to do. One time. We’re going to take care of business.” – Loving, on what Matta said after the game.