Derrick Walton Jr. pulled up for a fadeaway jumper from the baseline. There were 15.3 seconds left, and Walton’s shot could have have tied the game at 68.
Instead, it clanged off the rim. For a moment, there was still hope, as the Wolverines got their fingertips on a potential offensive rebound. But when Ohio State forward Marc Loving snatched the ball out of the air, he simultaneously extinguished Michigan’s chance of salvaging a must-win game on its home court.
Sophomore forward Moritz Wagner was forced to foul Loving to extend the game, and he walked to the bench with his fifth and final foul, only to watch from the sidelines as Loving iced the game with a pair of free throws.
That one play told the story of the entire game.
All night, the Wolverines’ frontcourt found itself in foul trouble, and all night, it got dominated on the boards as a result of it, falling to the Buckeyes, 70-66.
“I think we kind of fed off of (forward Andre Wesson) there and did a great job,” said Ohio State coach Thad Matta. “They switch a lot, so we had some advantages in there size-wise. But the guys pursued the ball and did a heck of job with that.”
Added junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: “I think we weren’t putting ourselves in the position to get rebounds. Also, I think that we were just trying to jump instead of boxing people out and getting people off the glass, and I think that’s essentially what hurt us.”
Ohio State finished with a staggering 42-24 advantage on the glass. Sixteen of those boards came on the offensive end, leading to its whopping 19 second-chance points.
As Michigan coach John Beilein alluded to after the game, some of the Buckeyes’ rebounds came as a result of Michigan’s defense being caught in the wrong position when the first shots went up. Others boiled down to defensive mismatches, as 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-9 forwards Duncan Robinson and Mark Donnal were forced to compete down low with Loving, forward Jae’Sean Tate and Ohio State’s seven-footer, Trevor Thompson.
But the fact of the matter is that Wagner and redshirt sophomore forward DJ Wilson weren’t facing that same disadvantage when they were on the floor, but were outplayed on the boards anyway. The Wolverine duo wasn’t out there enough either. Too often, they fell prey to foul trouble that largely stemmed from situations where they couldn’t get position battling for rebounds underneath and were forced to commit cheap fouls.
“Just physically, right now, Thompson’s probably been down in that basket his whole life,” Beilein said. “Moe hasn’t been there very much. That was a physical mismatch. And Tate has been there three years, playing big minutes for three years — not a good matchup for DJ. He took advantage of those situations, and we couldn’t stop in those areas.”
Just over a minute into the second half, Wagner and Wilson both picked up their third fouls. Wilson went to the bench with just three points and one rebound. Wagner didn’t fare much better, joining Wilson on the sidelines with five points and a single rebound as well.
Neither returned until the 13:04 mark. By that time, though, the Wolverines had been trying to cope with the precarious situation of having Donnal and Robinson as the sole options in the frontcourt. Ohio State held a five-point advantage and had led for the entire frame — something that wouldn’t change despite Wagner and Wilson’s presence.
While Wilson upped his point total to 11, neither of the two fared much better on the glass — each finishing with the same rebound total they had when the second half began. In the end, Michigan’s guards shared the bulk of the rebounding responsibility, as Walton and Abdur-Rahkman finished with 10 and seven, respectively.
The loss stung enough in its own right, as it may well prove to be the one bad loss that the Wolverines couldn’t have afforded if they hoped to receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
But how it happened might sting even worse.
“The way we lost,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “Got outrebounded, especially by that much, I think that hurts more. And it shows that they wanted it more.”