What fatigue? Ohio State beats Michigan with second-half run to advance to title game
INDIANAPOLIS — As the higher seed in the Big Ten tournament, Michigan got to take the court first on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium. A few moments before a semifinal showdown with Ohio State, the Wolverines charged onto an empty court as their fans rose to their feet.
And from the speakers, “Buckeye Battle Cry” rang out. Someone had hit a wrong button somewhere, and after a few bars the music changed to a prerecorded version of “Hail to the Victors.”
It was a sign of what was to come. Playing their third game in as many days and down a key player, fifth-seeded Ohio State (21-8) advanced to the conference tournament championship game for the first time in eight years with a 68-67 win against top-seeded Michigan (20-4).
As is tradition with this Buckeyes team, though, the game came down to the wire.
Michigan would put together an 11-1 run in the final three minutes, and the outcome wasn't secure until Michigan's Mike Smith missed a jumper at the buzzer after Ohio State turned it over on its final three possessions.
"Dadgonnit, do we make it interesting," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. "I give them credit. They battled."
The Buckeyes last reached the final when they defeated Wisconsin 50-43 in 2013. They will play the winner of Iowa and Illinois at 3:50 p.m. Sunday.
Down 27-26 at the half, Duane Washington Jr., E.J. Liddell and the rest of the Buckeyes shook off some tired legs and pulled away around the midpoint of the second half. Trailing 43-42, Ohio State put together an 11-0 run to take a 53-43 lead, then increased it to 11 on a Washington three-pointer a possession later on which he seemed to hardly glance at the net.
Along the way, point guard CJ Walker was everywhere on defense, going full-on Superman for a pair of loose balls to prevent the Wolverines from second-chance points. Justice Sueing, with 5:17 to play, fouled out Michigan’s Franz Wagner while scoring to push the lead back to 11.
Washington, who had 30 points in the first meeting between these teams this season, scored 19 of his 24 after halftime. Ohio State scored on 10 of 12 possessions during one stretch, turning a 43-42 deficit into a 67-56 lead that would hold up despite the late turnovers.
"That last huddle we had before we turned the ball over (the last time), 'Coach said hey, forget about everything else. We have one job: we’ve got to score and get a stop,' " Washington said. "We didn’t score and I looked at our guys and said, 'Hey. We’ve got 30 seconds. Finish.' And we pulled it out."
The game took a pair of tough losses before it got underway. Ohio State was without senior Kyle Young, who suffered what was confirmed before the game as a concussion in Friday’s game against Purdue. Michigan was without senior guard Isaiah Livers, its best three-point shooter, after an MRI revealed he suffered a stress fracture in his right foot in Friday’s win against Maryland.
Young is now in concussion protocol. He will be evaluated daily, and his status going forward is unknown but Holtmann essentially said he will be out for Sunday's game. In his place, junior Musa Jallow moved into the starting lineup.
Reflecting both those injuries, as well as the others that pile up at this point in the season and the fatigue level of playing on multiple days, the game bore little resemblance to the 92-87 thriller at Value City Arena on Feb. 21.
Washington Jr. scored on a floater during Ohio State’s second possession, moving him past 1,000 career points, but the Buckeyes wouldn’t make another two-point shot until 7:05 remained in the half when Walker scored on a fast-break layup.
To that point, Ohio State was 1 for 14 from inside the arc as it struggled to get much of anything in the way of a clean look. By the end of the half, the Buckeyes had used all 11 available scholarship players including sophomore Ibrahima Diallo.
Seth Towns hit a corner three in the final minute of the half to send Ohio State into the locker room down 27-26.