Just 12:50 into the first half Tuesday at Ohio State, Michigan sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman committed his second foul on guard JaQuan Lyle, who drove to the net for a layup. As Lyle sank his free throw — one of Ohio State’s 17 during the game — junior guard Andrew Dakich replaced Abdur-Rahkman, who headed to the bench for the rest of the half.
Abdur-Rahkman has proven to be a sparkplug on the road in senior guard Caris LeVert’s absence, scoring 15 and 16 points against Penn State and Minnesota, respectively, in the two away games leading up to the matchup with the Buckeyes. Though Michigan was trailing by eight points, Beilein benched him.
Ohio State (9-5 Big Ten, 17-10 overall) headed into the locker room at halftime with an eight-point lead and never relinquished its lead thereafter. The second half didn’t get any better for the Wolverines (9-5, 19-8), and the Buckeyes cruised to a 76-66 victory.
After the game, Beilein said he was very tempted to break his two-foul benching rule, but he stuck by it.
“But again, (the margin) was like two or three points with two minutes to go,” Beilein said. “There’s no reason to say, ‘OK, the sky is falling.’ And then they scored the last five points to make it an eight-point game.
“So you’re not going to put a guy in there with a minute left to go with two fouls on him. I don’t think that was a big difference. I’ll do it if I think the game is getting out of control. I didn’t think it was with two minutes to go (until halftime). I thought we were right there, and they scored the last two times, and we didn’t.”
Michigan continued to make detrimental mistakes, committing 14 fouls in the second half. For a team that gives 15.7 fouls per game — the eighth-fewest in the country — 14 in one half is unusual.
Three Wolverines, including Abdur-Rahkman, ended the night with four fouls each, and they barely escaped the game without a player fouling out. Michigan is the only team left in the country that hasn’t lost a player to disqualification.
Junior forward Mark Donnal, who flirted with the mark against Purdue and Minnesota, avoided the bug against Ohio State and ended up leading Michigan with 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting.
When asked about defending down low, where the Buckeyes outscored the Wolverines, 38-28, Donnal said the Wolverines need to improve on getting into position.
“A few times, we got too low, and when the offense gets into position like that, it’s tough to stop the run to the basket,” Donnal said. “We just have to do a better job of staying locked in defensively.”
Ohio State shared the ball well, leading to a balanced offense with five players scoring in double digits, partially because Michigan couldn’t find an effective defense. Man-to-man defense seemed to lead to the most problems, allowing the Buckeyes to draw fouls.
Michigan committed six fouls in the first five minutes of the second half, including two from sophomore forward Aubrey Dawkins in a four-second span. More fouls often equate to more playing time for the bench, and in this case, the substitutions didn’t help Michigan much. The Buckeyes outscored the Wolverines in bench points, 20-9.
The largest deficit was 14 points with 12:08 remaining in the second half, just moments after Ohio State reached the bonus with its seventh foul.
Michigan seemed to chalk up the loss to a mix of fatigue and an emotional rollercoaster of a week, with a win at Minnesota and a victory over then-No. 18 Purdue at home. Regardless, the Wolverines were out of sorts, and it was noticeable.
“We just gotta bring it every game,” Donnal said. “We had a chip on our shoulder for the game at Purdue, and unfortunately, we just didn’t bring it tonight.”