ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A mostly subdued Crisler Center was finally in full voice Saturday night as a product of the battleground city of Toledo headed to the free-throw line. But Ohio State senior Marc Loving’s mind was clear.
“I haven’t missed, and I’m not about to miss,” he was thinking.
He hadn’t, and he didn’t. Loving made two free throws with 15.3 seconds to play, making him perfect on six attempts, and they cemented a 70-66 win against Michigan. The victory snaps a two-game losing streak and, for at least one night, breaks a few narratives that have dogged the Buckeyes (14-10, 4-7 Big Ten).
Ohio State dominated Michigan on the boards 42-24 and turned 16 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points. It hit 24 of 28 free throws (85.7 percent) and forced a Michigan team that averaged 9.41 turnovers, fewest nationally, into 12 while making plays down the stretch.
In other words, the Buckeyes did what they had to do.
“It seemed like it was probably the most consistent we’ve played in terms of putting halves together,” coach Thad Matta said. “We didn’t play perfect by any stretch, but I thought our guys did a good job of keeping their composure and making the plays we had to make down the stretch.”
After Michigan (14-9, 4-6) opened a 19-8 lead less than six minutes in, Ohio State turned up its defense instead of shrinking away as it has done often this season. Freshman Micah Potter started an 8-0 run with a three-pointer — and shushed the crowd while running back on defense — that made it a three-point game, and the Buckeyes led at halftime for the third time in conference play 36-35.
“I just felt like we played through adversity,” Loving said. “They came out with a fantastic punch in the first couple minutes of the game. We were able to recover.”
Michigan tied the score at 60 and again at 63, and each time Ohio State immediately responded. Jae’Sean Tate’s basket with 4:03 left put the Buckeyes ahead 62-60, and Loving hit a tough right-handed hook shot with 1:54 left for a 65-63 lead.
JaQuan Lyle, who came off the bench due to injury as C.J. Jackson made his first start of the season, made 3 of 4 free throws in the final 32.4 seconds for his only points to set up Loving’s final pair. All eight Ohio State players to see action played at least 11 minutes and scored at least three points.
Michigan’s 66 points tied its fewest for Big Ten play. Ohio State had been allowing 75.9 points per conference game and hadn’t kept any of its prior four opponents below 72.
“There has to be some sort of progression throughout the season,” Loving said. “A team has to grow. I feel like we’ve taken a step forward over these last couple days and the last week, and hopefully we can keep striving forward.”