OSU (9-6-4, 5-3-0) returned home to defeat Michigan (6-9-3, 3-3-2) in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten tournament, 1-0, on Sunday.
The victory came less than a week after the Buckeyes beat Michigan, 2-1, in Ann Arbor, Mich., to close the regular season.
“I think we were just all really focused and really hungry to defend our home turf, and beat Michigan again twice in five days, obviously that was a really difficult task, but we embraced it and we ran with that,” redshirt-senior goalkeeper Alex Ivanov added.
For the second consecutive game against the Wolverines, it was sophomore forward Danny Jensen who opened the scoring in the first half. The sophomore directed a header in front of the box off a high feed from senior midfielder Max Moller and deposited it into the corner of the net.
“We knew exactly what they had, on the counter that they know exactly what we had,” Jensen said.
The goal was Jensen’s fifth of the year, including his fourth in OSU’s last five games. However, Jensen said he is not the one responsible for the recent success.
“My teammates are putting me in the right positions,” he said. “I’m not really doing too much. I just have to be in the right positions by moving a few yards, and they’re putting the ball on my head, on my foot.”
Michigan appeared to tie the game with a header that got past Ivanov late in the first half, but the equalizer was waved off because of an offsides call.
As a result, the first half came to a close with the Buckeyes holding a 1-0 lead. Michigan led in shots at the half, however, 5-3.
But OSU turned that trend around to begin the latter half. In the first 30 minutes of the second half, the Buckeyes only allowed Michigan to get two shots off as they played a defensive, conservative style.
“It was crucial that we kept focus and maintained our lead, and I think everyone just did really well to stay on the same page,” Ivanov said.
Despite Michigan’s desperate search for the equalizer, the Buckeyes’ defense held strong, controlling possession for much of the second half and holding Michigan to only one shot on goal.
“It was a great shutout today more than anything,” OSU coach John Bluem said. “We talked about at halftime, if we defended well, then we’ve already got the game won. If you don’t let them score, we won the game already, and I think that mindset helped.”
It was the second-consecutive chippy game between the rivals. After 20 fouls were whistled in Wednesday’s contest, 37 were assessed Sunday – including two yellow cards in the final minute.
“It’s an important game, they’re fighting for their season, we’re fighting for their season. It’s a rivalry, too,” Ivanov said about the number of fouls. “It’s always tough playing against Michigan, it’s pretty physical and demanding on the body.”
Ivanov’s shutout was his seventh of the season and 15th of his collegiate career.
Shortly after the game, Indiana defeated Northwestern in a penalty kick shootout to advance to the semifinals to meet the Buckeyes. OSU fell to Indiana on Oct. 12, 2-1.
In College Park, Md., No. 1-seeded Maryland defeated Rutgers, 2-0, to earn the right to host the semifinals and championship as the highest remaining seed.
Of the three other teams remaining in the tournament, OSU is 1-2-0 this season, allowing a combined five goals.
However, Jensen said it would not be easy for future opponents to score many goals against the late-season iteration of the OSU defense.
“Any team that is going to have to beat us, they’re going to have to score some great goals or we’re going to have to get unlucky, because we’re playing really well right now,” he said.
OSU is set to travel to College Park, Md., to take on sixth-seeded Indiana in the semifinals Friday. That game is scheduled to kick off at 3:40 p.m.