Buckeyes Bounced By Michigan In Semifinals

The Ohio State basketball team was eliminated from the Big Ten tournament on Saturday, suffering an 72-69 defeat at the hands of Michigan in the tournament semifinals. The Buckeyes will now look ahead to Selection Sunday, touting a 25-9 overall record and a fifth-place finish in Big Ten play.

After a Spike Albrecht free throw attempt that would have sealed a Big Ten tournament championship game appearance for Michigan careened off the rim and into the hands of Ohio State's Aaron Craft, the Buckeyes senior guard raced up the floor with overtime on his mind. Only Craft's would-be game-tying shot never happened, as the ball slipped away from him -- along with Ohio State's hopes of a sixth consecutive conference tournament championship game appearance.

"It slipped out of my hands," Craft said flatly following the Buckeyes' 72-69 defeat at the hands of the Wolverines in the Big Ten tournament semifinals on Saturday. "You've got to step up for your team in that moment, and I didn't."

Fifth-seeded Ohio State (25-9, 10-8) even having a chance at a game-tying shot in Indianapolis was impressive in and of itself after a first half that saw No. 1 seed Michigan (25-7, 15-3) connect on its first six attempts from beyond the three-point arc. The Wolverines raced out to a 15-2 lead in the game's opening four minutes, despite the Buckeyes playing a not too bad brand of basketball.

"Every category we came into the game wanting to do, we did," Craft said. "We scored more points in the paint than they did, we got into transition off turnovers, out-rebounded them. They hit 12 threes today and that's what they do. Some of them were open, some were contested, one went off the backboard. And that's tough. That's a tough way to lose."

As Ohio State failed to keep pace with the Wolverines' sharpshooting, Michigan took a 32-16 lead on a Caris LeVert dunk with 7:39 remaining in the first half. That was the start of six straight possessions that saw the Buckeyes and Wolverines trade baskets, before Ohio State closed the half on a 15-4 run to trim Michigan's lead to a 41-37 advantage heading into halftime.

"Just staying aggressive really," OSU guard Shannon Scott said when asked what the key was to the Buckeyes‘ comeback. "(We) kind of dug ourselves into a hole again. I feel like as a team when our head's underwater, we start fighting more, and we started doing that again today."

Scott played arguably his best game as a Buckeye against the Wolverines, posting a stat line that consisted of 18 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals. The junior point guard's play was especially important in a second half that saw Craft head to the bench with four fouls with more than 11 minutes remaining in the game.

With the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year on the bench, the Buckeyes still managed to stage their second furious comeback in as many days, even after Michigan stretched its lead to 11 with a 9-2 run to open the second half. The Wolverines extended their advantage to 12 points on a LeVert layup with 14:57 remaining in the game, but Ohio State answered back as Scott capped a 7-0 run with a three-pointer to trim Michigan's lead to five.

The Wolverines would never regain their double-digit advantage and even fell behind when a Sam Thompson dunk punctuated a 10-2 OSU ran that gave the Buckeyes a 61-60 lead with fewer than eight minutes remaining in the game.

Michigan evened the score with a Jordan Morgan free throw before regaining the lead with a LeVert three-pointer. Scott answered back with a three-pointer of his own, which along with a LaQuinton Ross layup sandwiched a LeVert free throw as the Buckeyes took a 66-65 lead with 5:27 left on the clock.

Thompson extended the Buckeyes' lead to three with a layup as Ohio State appeared poised for its sixth consecutive conference championship game appearance. But Nik Stauskas would inch the Wolverines closer with a jumper before Glenn Robinson III regained their lead with a pair of free throws with just less than three minutes remaining in regulation.

Craft -- cold from his elongated stint on the bench -- missed a pair of free throws that could given the Buckeyes their advantage back and Stauskas stretched Michigan's lead with a two-handed reverse layup with just over two minutes left in the game. Ohio State followed with three possessions that saw two missed jumpers from Ross and one from Craft before Ross headed to the charity stripe with 44 seconds left in the game.

With the Buckeyes trailing by three, Ross only managed to split the pair and Ohio State fouled Albrecht with six seconds left on the clock. The sophomore guard made his first shot to push his team's lead to three before missing his second, but that was enough to seal the game for the Wolverines as Craft never managed to get his would-be equalizer off.

"I'm frustrated with myself and the way I finished the game," said Craft, who scored nine points, pulled down seven rebounds, dished out six assists but also recorded four turnovers. "They did a good job of fighting while I was out and I just wanted to come in and help us out a little bit. I got where I wanted to. I got to the free throw line, missed them both, I got a three -- it was an open three. I need to find a way to put the ball in the basket down the stretch like that."

Ross led the Buckeyes with 19 points, while Thompson added 11 to the OSU cause. The Wolverines were paced by Stauskas -- the Big Ten Player of the Year -- who scored 18 points in the tournament semifinal and LeVert -- a native of Pickerington, Ohio -- tallied 17 points and eight rebounds against his hometown school.

With their win, Michigan advances to the Big Ten tournament title game, where they'll meet No. 3 seed Michigan State at 3:30 PM on Sunday. The Buckeyes, in turn, will head home, prepared to spend Selection Sunday in Columbus for the first time since 2008.

"I've never been in Columbus on Selection Sunday," Thompson said. "I've never left this tournament before the championship game, so it will be a little weird."

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