Kaleb Wesson barked at Zavier Simpson. He was frustrated with the junior guard’s relentless defense after Simpson blocked a shot seemingly out of nowhere.
Simpson, of course, barked back.
It wasn’t long before both teams got involved, exchanging words and shoves before the refs broke it up.
In the end, both teams got two technicals plus a common foul on the Buckeyes. Junior center Jon Teske sunk both free throws and the No. 5 Michigan men’s basketball team (20-1 overall, 9-1 Big Ten) — buoyed by a chorus of boos — had all the momentum against Ohio State (13-7, 3-6). The Wolverines scored five straight points afterward to cap off a 9-0 run and extend Michigan’s lead to 18.
“That’s our motivation, when things get chippy in the game,” Simpson said. “We thrive off that. That hungers us, keeps us going. That makes us wanna make the next best play.”
And the Buckeyes’ frustration with Simpson started long before the fight. On the previous possession, Simpson hit a 3-pointer to break up a three-minute scoring drought. Before that, he was a constant presence, grabbing boards left and right and dishing out assists. He finished with a triple-double, the first of his career — scoring 11 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists and acting as the Wolverines’ catalyst in its 65-49 win.
Ohio State stymied Michigan at first with different defensive looks, including a three-quarters trap and a 2-3 zone. The Wolverines couldn’t get any shots to fall — for two or for three. The Buckeyes, though, gave the ball away and fouled so frequently that they minimized their own volume of chances. In the first minute of the second half alone, they had two fouls and two turnovers.
Parts of the game seemed like exercises in not scoring. But despite its lack of efficiency, Michigan generated enough chances to build up a lead. On one possession, sophomore guard Jordan Poole missed two triples before finally making the third. Two minutes later, Ohio State committed another turnover late in the shot clock. Sophomore forward Isaiah Livers hit a 3-pointer on the other end to give the Wolverines their first lead of the game.
From there, the shots started falling. Michigan took the lead for good on a trey by redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews and finished with 10 3-pointers on 37 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
“(We) were confused a little bit and once we got a rhythm for it, we started to play with a better rhythm, whether it was zone or man in the first half,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “In the second half they played a couple sets of zone and I think (Poole) hit a three and somebody else hit a three and they didn’t play zone anymore.”
During the final media timeout, two assistants whispered to Simpson a simple message: “Get another rebound.” It was then that he realized he was approaching a milestone. With 2:49 left in the game, following a missed jumper, he finally got his 10th board.
“My teammates, they told me to get it,” Simpson said. “So having it come up, two of them could’ve gotten the rebound. I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m here.’ They kinda let it bounce. … That means a lot.”
A minute later, Simpson was whistled for a foul and removed from the game, but instead of the usual boos to accompany such a call, Simpson exited to cheers of “triple double” and “Zavier Simpson” and then, finally, a standing ovation.