ANN ARBOR, Mich. – So was it a foul or wasn’t it?
As is typically the case deep in the heart of conference play, it depends on who is answering the question. In a game between two teams aiming to prove that an active two-game winning streak was a sign that a corner had been firmly turned, a flagrant 1 foul issued to Michigan’s Zavier Simpson during the final minute of Tuesday night’s game played a role in helping Ohio State grind out a 61-58 win at the Crisler Center.
The play left Kyle Young’s jersey in tatters, forcing him to play the final 33.3 seconds in a No. 50 jersey. And while he didn’t get a great view of the play in the moment, Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann said he agreed with the call.
Asked if he was surprised to see Simpson called for such a foul, Holtmann said, “Not after looking at the jersey. I think if I would’ve not seen the jersey was torn apart … our assistants on the bench noticed it more than I did in live action. I’ll have to go back and look at it to confirm, but I just thought that maybe confirmed it. They were clear with what they called, foul on our guy on the shot and then flagrant 1 for pulling him down with his jersey.”
The play came as Simpson cut across the court and drew contact from Young. As he missed his shot while being fouled, Simpson grabbed onto Young’s jersey, pulling on him as the guard fell to the floor and clenching onto the jersey.
The officials then stopped play and reviewed the incident before giving Simpson, a senior, a flagrant 1 foul. On the ESPN2 broadcast, one of the officials can be heard explaining that Simpson was penalized for grabbing the jersey and “bringing him all the way to the ground,” although Young remained upright following the play.
Michigan coach Juwan Howard did not agree with the call and said he wasn’t allowed to see a replay of the play.
“It was explained like, Zavier went up for layup,” Howard said. “And as he was coming down, he grabbed his jersey and ripped it. So at the end of the day we have to respect their call that was made. Unfortunately I didn’t see it.
“I tried to look for it. It was being shown on the monitor, or replay right there near our bench. So I started looking at it when I was talking to the referee. And then as I was looking at, he was about to show it for the rewind. And he told the guy to shut it off immediately.”
It was a controversial ending to what had been a physical game that saw plenty of contact on both ends of the court go uncalled. Young, who was one of three Buckeyes to meet with reporters outside the visitors’ locker room, said the Buckeyes had been practicing late-game situations plenty in practice and in this case were prepared to win after coming up short in similar situations earlier this season.
“We expected a game that was going to be like this in terms of how physical they are and how physical we play,” Holtmann said. I thought it was that.”
Young answered Simpson’s two free throws with two of his own, and teammate CJ Walker set the final score with two more makes with 17.9 seconds to play.
“A lot of poise,” he said. “Staying connected. We practice late-game situations in practice all the time. I think we’ve really been building and improving in practice every day. That’s what coach said: with every day, we’ve got to get better. That’s starting to show a little bit.”
Ohio State shot 10 free throws for the game. Half of them came in the final 2:23, and the Buckeyes made them all. Michigan shot nine in a game that had 14 fouls called on each team, a number that doesn’t reflect the physicality of the game or the manner in which it was played.
Kaleb Wesson, who finished with a game-high 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting and added 12 rebounds while playing 35:21, sported a nasty-looking scratch down the left side of his neck.
Asked to describe the physicality of the game, Wesson said, “I need words? I don’t know if you can put that into words. Boy got his jersey ripped off, I got scratched by a sabertooth, (shoot).”
As for the play when the scratch occurred, Wesson said, “It was a transition play. I got scratched. A basketball play, I guess.”
A few weeks ago, it’s not a stretch to say that such situations – physical play, a hostile road environment, 19 total lead changes, a controversial late call – would have been too much for the Buckeyes to overcome. Now, they have won three straight after enduring a stretch of six losses in seven games.
Included in there have been a pair of suspensions, multiple injuries to key players and the indefinite absence of freshman point guard D.J. Carton, who missed his second straight game. Tuesday night, exactly three years removed from their last win at Michigan, the Buckeyes instead found a way to gut out a win that moves them within a game of .500 in league play.
“In Big Ten play, these games are going to come down to those little plays,” Young said. “It could be a loose ball, a 50-50 ball, whatever it might be. That stuff adds up by the end of the game. If we’re winning that stuff, we’re competing and doing the right thing.”
Most of the 12,707 fans had already started to file out of the arena when Michigan’s Eli Brooks missed a three-pointer in the final seconds that could’ve tied the game. By the time the final handshakes were complete and the Buckeyes had performed their rendition of the “Buckeye Battle Cry” from inside their locker room, the arena itself was mostly quiet minus one voice.
“O-H!” someone called out.
There was no reply.