It took six tries but it finally happened. Ohio State finally topped a Big Ten team with a winning record.
The Buckeyes shot at a blistering pace, limited Michigan (19-8, 9-5)from three-point range and withstood the visitors second-half runs to top the Wolverines 76-66 at home Tuesday night, their third straight victory.
The win, Ohio State’s best in nearly two months, draws the Buckeyes (17-10, 9-5) even with the Wolverines in conference play and gave Thad Matta’s team some much-needed confidence as they prepare for their final four games of the regular season.
“I like the way we played," the head coach said. "As I told the guys after the game I thought there was the cohesiveness that this team has to play with was evident out there. Everybody sort of embraced their time on the floor, I thought we had an active bench, guys were into the game. I’d like to bottle this up and continue to move forward.”
The Buckeyes finished the night hitting 54 percent of their shots from the floor (27 of 50) as eight different players scored in the game and five reached double figures. Michigan, meanwhile, shot 39 percent from the field and hit just 5 of 24 from three (20.8 percent) in its lone meeting with Ohio State this season. That mark from distance was far below the 40.4 percent shooting from three that the Wolverines carried into the game.
Ohio State took an 8-point lead into halftime and, after former Buckeye Evan Turner was honored with his jersey hung in the rafters at intermission, extended their advantage to 52-38 over the first eight minutes of the second half. The run that might have doomed the Buckeyes earlier in the season followed as Michigan reeled off seven straight points to get back in the game, but this time Ohio State had an answer.
A three from Marc Loving with 10:24 remaining stopped the bleeding. The junior was just 1-of-3 to that point in the game.
"Had a couple that rattled around, but you can’t let it discourage you and go to the next play," Loving said. "My teammates and coaches encouraged me to keep shooting and they have a lot of confidence in me so I feel like I should have a lot of confidence in myself.”
Michigan would cut the Ohio State lead to single digits three times the rest of the way, but the Buckeyes answered with points on two of those occasions, failing to do so only after the game clock had ticked under one minute and the outcome was all but decided.
Loving essentially put the game out of reach with a three-point play with 2:29 remaining extended the Ohio State advantage to 72-59.
The clutch three and the and-1 from Loving, who was held scoreless in Ohio State’s win over Rutgers Saturday, was part of a well-rounded performance from the junior. Loving finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists for the Buckeyes, showcasing an aggressive approach even when his shot wasn’t falling.
"I thought Marc was really dialed in," Matta said. "The biggest thing I liked tonight was the way he went up and got rebounds, he was above the rim. He was out of his area getting boards. To see him bounce back, because he didn’t play particularly well (against Rutgers), but he also knows that we need him to play at this type of level and that was good to see.”
Ohio State’s hot shooting was a trend early as it hit 9 of its first 18 shots and six different players scored as the Buckeyes built a 24-16 advantage 12:50 into the contest. Michigan led for just 1:25 of the game which Ohio State controlled.
The Wolverines led 12-10 before a Keita Bates-Diop dunk and a three from A.J. Harris gave the Buckeyes a 15-12 advantage they wouldn’t surrender over the final 30:02 of the game.
Loving’s effort, his fifth double-double of the season, was part of a balanced attack for the Buckeyes as five players reached double figures. Jae’Sean Tate had 13 points despite dealing with foul trouble while JaQuan Lyle and Trevor Thompson each had 12. Kam Williams added 10, part of 20 bench points for the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes shooting success was in part thanks to their ability to get inside. Ohio State scored 38 points in the paint compared to 28 from Michigan. After turning the ball over 19 times against Rutgers the Buckeyes coughed it up just nine times Tuesday.
“That’s huge. We’re still breathing, we’re still alive. We’re just keeping the streak going. We still have a lot of work to do going to Nebraska, it’s a tough environment," Tate said. "We can celebrate this one tonight, but tomorrow we’ve got to get back to work.”
The Wolverines were playing without senior Caris LeVert. The Pickerington, Ohio, native played for Michigan against Purdue but had missed the previous 11 games with a left leg injury and the pain related to that injury caused him to miss the game.
Ohio State looks to extend its winning streak to four when it travels to Nebraska Saturday for a 7 p.m. tip.