COLUMBUS — As Ohio State honored former standout Evan Turner with a halftime ceremony Tuesday night, Michigan’s fans and coaches alike might have winced at the memory of Turner’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer six years ago.
That shot gave Ohio State a stunning win in the 2010 Big Ten Tournament and ended the Wolverines’ season in the blink of an eye. No such heroics were necessary Tuesday, however, as the Buckeyes (9-5 Big Ten, 17-10 overall) jumped out to an eight-point lead at halftime and never relinquished it in a 76-66 win against Michigan (9-5, 19-8).
The Wolverines have now won in Columbus only once in the last 14 seasons and came out sputtering in the rivals’ only regular-season matchup this season. Michigan missed its first five attempts from the field and quickly fell victim to foul trouble, with sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman spending the middle part of the first half on the bench after picking up two quick fouls.
Michigan coach John Beilein, who has long refused to send players back into games with two fouls before halftime, didn’t break from tradition, even as Michigan failed to generate offense with junior Andrew Dakich playing point guard.
“Very,” said Michigan coach John Beilein, asked how tempted he was to break his own rule by sending Abdur-Rahkman back in to spell Dakich. “But again, (the margin) was like two or three points with two minutes to go. … 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.’ ”
The Wolverines’ options in the backcourt were limited to begin with, as senior guard Caris LeVert did not play after making his return Saturday in a 61-56 win against Purdue. LeVert was expected to play in his final regular-season visit to his home state but was instead forced to watch his former high school teammate, Jae’Sean Tate, account for the margin of victory and then some with a 13-point effort.
Beilein reiterated after the game that “pain is (LeVert’s) guide,” and said LeVert was too sore to practice in the wake of the 11 minutes he played against the Boilermakers. The Wolverines had hoped the two days between the Purdue win and the trip to Columbus would have allowed for some sort of continuity, but they found no such luck, as LeVert once again was unable to play after giving it a try during shootaround earlier in the day.
“There’s been an effect (from the absences of) him and Spike all year,” Beilein said, asked if LeVert’s absence changed his game plan. “No, Ohio State had an effect on our game plan today.”
Michigan fell into a hole with Abdur-Rahkman on the bench, and its foul troubles came back with a vengeance in the second half. The Wolverines recorded six team fouls in the period’s first five minutes, including two in a four-second stretch from sophomore guard Aubrey Dawkins. Redshirt sophomore guard Duncan Robinson and Dawkins also finished with four fouls apiece, limiting Beilein’s options in the game’s final stretch.
It may not have mattered, as Michigan’s shooters went a combined 5-for-24 from 3-point range, including a 1-for-5 performance from Robinson, who has struggled as of late.
Junior forward Mark Donnal proved Michigan’s only consistent source of scoring, as Michigan’s backcourt juniors — forward Zak Irvin and guard Derrick Walton Jr. — shot a combined 10-for-28 from the field. Donnal did well to score in the paint and finished with 17 points, but his performance wasn’t nearly enough as the Wolverines’ perimeter-centric offense sputtered around the 3-point arc. Irvin finished with 15 and Walton finished with 13.
The loss cuts deep into the Wolverines’ margin for error as they vie for an NCAA Tournament bid. With the loss, Michigan likely needs a win at home against Northwestern as well as one out of three versus No. 4 Iowa, at No. 6 Maryland and at Wisconsin to be secure in its standing for the 68-member field.