On Sunday Ohio State was dull.
The Buckeyes fell behind 7-0 to start the game on their way to digging a 20-point first-half hole that they couldn’t climb out of. Michigan snapped a five-game losing streak, topping the Buckeyes 64-57 in front of 12,618 at the Crisler Center.
The loss – the Buckeyes third in five games – felt all too familiar as slow starts have plagued the team throughout the year.
“I have no idea why we came out slow, but we did,” senior Sam Thompson said. “It’s real frustrating. We had eight days off. Nobody is tired, nobody’s legs are hurting, nobody is injured. To come out like that is inexcusable.”
The loss stings even more considering Ohio State (19-8, 8-6) topped the Wolverines (14-13, 7-8) by 19 points in January and Michigan has since lost two of its best players to injury in Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr.
Zak Irvin and Spike Albrecht stepped up for the injured stars, finishing with 15 and 16 points, respectively. Irvin scored the game’s first five points to start the 7-0 run for Michigan, helping the Wolverines build a 31-11 lead with 6:36 left in the first half, their largest lead of the game.
Michigan consistently got to the rim in the first half, abusing the buckeyes on the pick and roll. Thompson said that was a team breakdown defensively and Matta agreed.
“We didn’t do a good job tracking the basketball off of that,” the coach said. “There’s going to be a split-second where the roll man is open and we got that corrected, but that’s just being up where you’re supposed to be and it seemed like we were on our heels too much defensively. Give them credit, they were able to do — especially in the first half — anything they wanted and you can’t do that with that type of offense.”
Jae’Sean Tate got the Buckeyes on the board 3:45 into the game, but Ohio State was unable to string together stops defensively. Not once in the first half did Ohio State score more than three unanswered points.
The Wolverines shot 53.1 percent in the first half (17 of 32).
“I just feel like we gotta be more desperate and more alert from the start,” D’Angelo Russell said. “We have terrible starts and we're kicking and scratching, trying to fight at the end of the game and it comes back and haunts us and it's always too late.”
Like his teammates, Russell started slow. He scored just three points in the first half before leading a second-half comeback attempt. The Buckeyes went to the break trailing 39-23, their largest deficit at intermission since their Dec. 2 game against Louisville.
Russell got going in the second half, hitting a three on the team’s second possession to open the period’s scoring. Four free throws from Amir Williams and a Jae’Sean Tate layup cut the Wolverine advantage to 42-32 before a 7-0 run from Michigan.
That’s when Ohio State made its move. Shannon Scott hit a layup before six straight points from Russell cut the lead to single digits with 9:47 remaining. That was the first time the Buckeyes’ deficit was less than 10 in nearly 23 minutes.
The freshman followed that with his eighth straight point before Loving free throws and a basket from Keita Bates-Diop made it a one-possession game, 49-46, with 6:59 remaining. The Buckeyes would never be any closer.
“It’s hard to outscore a team by 20 points in 20 minutes, no matter who it is,” Thompson said. “We can’t go on the road and put ourselves down 20 and come down as flat as we were and expect to come back in 20 minutes.”
A three form Irvin ended the Buckeyes run and Michigan was able to keep Ohio State at bay from there.
An offensive rebound and put back from Marc Loving got the lead back down to six at 56-50 with 3:28 left, but two offensive rebounds by the Wolverines on the next possession sealed their victory. The Buckeyes followed that with three straight missed free throws and the Wolverines were able to ice the game.
Russell said that despite a week-long warning from the coaching staff, Ohio State may have underestimated Michigan.
“We preached 'don't take them light' all week,” Russell said. “And we clearly took it light on them. They were desperate for a win. They came up short in a few games after losing their top players. They wanted it more than us.
“I thought we were ready, I thought we had a great eight days. We had a bye, had a great feel in practice, everything was going right and then we came out and pulled what we pulled. I honestly couldn't tell you.”
Russell finished with a team-high 16 points, but had just two assists and five turnovers. Albrecht and Irvin, meanwhile, combined for nine assists and four steals with no turnovers. Thompson added 11 points and Keita Bates-Diop had 12.
The loss ends a stretch with eight of 11 games coming on the road and the Buckeyes have three of their final four games at home. That stretch starts with Nebraska on Thursday.