ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan basketball has been something of an inverse of its gridiron counterparts, finding ways to lose of late instead of hanging on to win. But if there was a game that the Wolverines really wanted — and needed — this season, it was to beat the rival Buckeyes.
Michigan enters the game at 6-10 while OSU is 12-4, but the Bucks are 2-3 in-conference — just one game better than the maize and blue.
The Wolverines appeared disjointed in a lot of ways, but still scored in bunches. After a couple of 8-0 runs in the first half, Michigan had a nine-point lead at halftime, but had to hold on in order to maintain victory in the second half.
Michigan had a 12-point lead, but mistakes and fouls on the defensive end kept it close, with the Buckeyes pulling within one with 10 minutes remaining. Just a minute and a half later, OSU had a one-point lead. 30 seconds later, it was a four-point Ohio State lead.
Would the Wolverines follow the typical script, allowing themselves to be pushed around in the waning minutes to lose after dominating much of the game?
Michigan ended up pushing it to a six-point lead again, but with just minutes remaining in the game, OSU was making another run. A blocking foul was called on Nimari Burnett with the maize and blue up just four, even though it appeared as if an Ohio State player had elbowed him in the face. 1:14 left in the game, Michigan maintained the four-point lead, and Olivier Nkamhoua drained a floater to push the lead back to six. But OSU guard Bruce Thornton hit a floater on the other end to keep it a four-point game with 52.8 seconds remaining.
However, another timely 3 from Terrance Williams helped the Wolverines pull away to ultimately beat the rival Buckeyes, 73-65.
Here are our five takeaways.
The offense is a disjointed mess
It’s certainly been the case that the Michigan basketball offense hasn’t always fired on all cylinders, but increasingly, it’s difficult to even surmise what the offense is even trying to do. Ball screens that go nowhere, multiple passes that end with poor shot selection — there’s just no seeming identity to what this iteration of the Wolverines are trying to do. There’s a lot of suspect ball movement, kicking it to the well-covered man rather than the open man. It just doesn’t often feel like this team has any kind of idea what it wants to do on that side of the court.
That said, because enough shots dropped, it worked in this game. Mostly because…
The 3s kept the Wolverines alive
There was a point in the early going where I asked myself: how on earth is this game tied? Ohio State was outshooting Michigan 50% to 29%, but the maize and blue kept making timely shots from beyond the arc, whereas the Buckeyes couldn’t hit anything from deep.
Michigan ended up going 50% from 3, draining 12-of-23 shots, with Terrance Williams going 5-for-5 and Dug McDaniel going 3-for-6. On the other end, OSU managed to go 3-for-22.
Despite the disjointed nature of the offense, the 3s kept the maize and blue going and ultimately spurred them on that side of the court.
Multiple players stepped up
No surprise, but Nkamhoua showed out for the maize and blue. He’s been relatively consistent throughout the year, even though he hasn’t necessarily put on a show. But with a team-leading 20 points (including six from 3), Nkamhoua was pivotal for the Wolverines in this one.
But having point guard Dug McDaniel certainly made a big impact as well. McDaniel didn’t play the last game and won’t see any more road action after working through some academic issues. And though he’s been involved in many of Michigan’s multiple losses, the team is certainly different with him at the point. He finished with 15 points.
Terrance Williams, who’s been up and down the past season and a half, also made some timely shots, including being clutch from beyond the arc. He was 5-for-5 for 18 points.
Defense stood tall -- mostly
As previously mentioned, Ohio State was off to a torrid start, shooting 50% at the outset of the game. But the Wolverines started looking like a more vintage Juwan Howard-coached group in that it had busy hands, dove for loose balls, got into driving lanes, and all-around disrupted Ohio State. Though the Buckeyes got some second-chance opportunities, for the most part, the maize and blue limited the scarlet and gray in that regard after a few minutes into the game.
There were lapses — specifically when Ohio State went on its 16-0 run midway through the second half, but it was the defense that stood tall when Michigan needed to stop the bleeding, and it was overall a better effort than what we’ve seen of late.
The end of the game
By now, it’s become rote that no matter how Michigan basketball plays in the first half, the second half is going to be something of a debacle. Even if most of the second half goes well, the end of the game tends to fall apart for the maize and blue.
And, sure enough, after Michigan had a 12-point lead midway through the second half, Ohio State went on a 16-0 run and took its first lead since early in the game. Uncharacteristically, the Wolverines fought back when it looked as if the game was falling apart, and managed to hold on to win, not just in a conference game, but in a rivalry contest.