INDIANAPOLIS — Sometimes it just isn’t meant to be.
Despite fighting back from a 16-point deficit to take the lead in the second half, a second straight comeback victory was not in the works for Ohio State, as it fell to top-seeded Michigan 72-69 in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament Saturday.
OSU (25-9, 12-9) quickly found itself behind early, as the Wolverines shot a blistering 6/8 from beyond the arc in the game’s first 10 minutes to jump out to a 24-14 lead.
“From the standpoint of the fact that this team is sitting at 25 wins right now after everything they’ve been through, we’ve played good basketball and we’re going to continue to play good basketball and I think that’s the job that we have to do,” OSU coach Thad Matta said after the loss. “As I challenged them after the game, I said, ‘Hey, how much better can we get next time we take the floor,’ and I think they’ll do that.”
The shooting barrage for the Wolverines would continue, as six Michigan players made 3-pointers in the first half causing OSU to struggle to keep pace.
“Beginning of the game, it started out much different than our last two games. It wasn’t us making mistakes it was them. Couldn’t miss — they couldn’t miss shots today. I think they hit at halftime like 8-13 from the three or something like that. So when you shoot like that they could have beaten almost anybody,” junior forward LaQuinton Ross said after the loss. “But we fought back — we fought back and got in the game. That’s what we’ve been doing this whole tournament and it came down to the end, couple of plays that we didn’t make and that’s on us.”
Trailing 37-25 at the 4:15 mark of the first half, the Buckeyes scored 12 of the game’s next 16 points to pull within four at halftime.
In a high scoring opening 20 minutes, only one player – OSU junior guard Shannon Scott — scored in double figures, with 10.
The Wolverines (25-7, 17-3) started the second half much like they did the first, nailing three more 3-pointers in as many possessions to extend the lead to 50-42.
Scott bounced in a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 12:19 left to cut the lead to five, but then the Buckeyes received a huge blow.
Senior guard Aaron Craft — trying to defend a 3-pointer by Wolverine leading scorer and Big Ten player of the year sophomore guard Nik Stauskas — got a piece of his body and committed his fourth foul. He would head to the bench until the 2:55 mark.
“It’s unfortunate but you gotta be pro’s pro in that situation,” Craft said of his foul trouble. “Those guys did a phenomenal job of fighting and clawing and finally getting us a lead.”
That lead came with junior forward Sam Thompson slammed home a lob pass from Scott at the 7:57 mark which gave OSU it’s first lead of the game, 61-60. A back-and-forth affair the rest of the way then ensued.
Two free throws by sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III gave Michigan a 69-68 advantage with 2:55 to play, a lead they would not relinquish.
The Buckeyes missed three of four free throws in the final 2:27 which would prove to cost them down the stretch.
After Stauskas missed a 3-pointer with 13 seconds left and Michigan up two, but sophomore guard Caris Levert leapt high for the rebound and found sophomore guard Spike Albrecht on the perimeter. He would make one of two free throws, and the ball would slip out of Craft’s hands just before the buzzer to seal the win for the Wolverines.
“You’ve got to step up for your team in that moment, and I didn’t,” Craft said, referring to the final play as well as missing two free throws late. “We knew that was going to come back and haunt us sometime. The two games we’ve had, we haven’t shot the ball well from the free throw line, and it cost us today.”
Stauskas led Michigan with 18 points, and Levert added 17.
Ross led the way for the Buckeyes with a game-high 19 points, while Scott tied a career-high with 18.
The Buckeyes will await their NCAA Tournament fate Sunday, when the brackets are scheduled to be announced at 6 p.m.
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