Michigan blows 20-point lead, suffers 71-62 loss to Ohio State

Monday, December 4, 2017 - 8:39pm

COLUMBUS — On the road, with the crowd roaring during Ohio State’s 14-0 run, the Michigan men’s basketball team needed a bucket. 

It prompted the predicament the Wolverines have faced so far this season: Who would come up with a basket with adversity in their face? 

Gone are Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr.  two former Michigan players capable of fending off pressure at the most opportune times. When it mattered most Monday night, no Wolverine proved capable of stopping the bleeding in time to escape with a win.

“I called every number I could call,” said Michigan coach John Beilein, “and it didn't happen.”

Spurred by an energetic 26-3 second-half run, Ohio State (2-0 Big Ten, 7-3 overall) overcame what was once a 20-point Michigan lead to secure a 71-62 win. 

The loss sets the Wolverines (1-1, 6-3) back to .500 in Big Ten play, and sends them into two big non-conference matchups with a sour taste in their mouth. 

Michigan followed up Saturday’s 16-2 start against Indiana with another strong start against the Buckeyes, taking a 14-6 lead early. With similar offensive precision, the Wolverines assisted on four of their first five field goals and 11 total in the first half. 

Eight different Michigan players scored in the first half and six hit at least one 3-pointer, en route to a frame in which the Wolverines made seven threes, turned the ball over just twice and scored 1.42 points per possession.

They appeared to be on their way to a comfortable victory — their second convincing win in the early stretch of Big Ten play.

But Jae’Sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop and the Buckeyes had other ideas. 

Initiated by a rare, five-point possession late in the first half, the Buckeyes carried their momentum out of the halftime break, scoring 19 of the first 22 points in the half and stymying Michigan’s once-potent offense. 

“As good as we were in the first 18 minutes of the first half, we were equally as bad in the second half,” Beilein said. “We couldn’t make a basket or couldn’t make, really, a right play in that time. … When things got a little tough, we really had trouble stepping up.”

The Wolverines never regained their composure, playing a half eerily reminiscent of the second half against North Carolina.

Midway through the second half, Tate attacked the rim with vigor, lowering his shoulder into the chest of junior forward Duncan Robinson, and finished through contact to narrow the deficit to only one point. Robinson, regularly the target of the duo’s attack, struggled to handle their physicality in the post. 

“We try to be positive (when facing opposing runs), kinda get back to what got us there,” said fifth-year senior Duncan Robinson. “That noise happened, we have to band together, do a better job of that. We kind of frayed when we hit some adversity.”

Tate and Diop combined for 21 of their team’s 45 shots and 32 of their 71 points, challenging Michigan’s forwards all night and dictating the physical nature of the second half.

There were some positives from the Wolverines, particularly from unexpected sources in the first half.

Two days after watching the entire Indiana game from the bench, fifth-year senior guard Jaaron Simmons looked the most comfortable he’s been in a Michigan uniform, notching three assists in his seven first-half minutes.

Two days after watching his younger counterpart — freshman Jordan Poole — steal the show, sophomore Ibi Watson earned the first minutes off the bench at the shooting guard position and immediately rewarded his coach with a 3-pointer and defensive energy. 

And two days after not scoring, sophomore Zavier Simpson showed poise in the pick-and-roll, scoring seven of the team’s first 19 points despite coming off the bench once again. Simpson brought a modicum of composure to the Wolverines as they began to crumble in the second half. His ability to attack the rim off the pick-and-roll proved to be one of the team’s only sources of scoring down the stretch.

Despite those efforts, the game was decided in the second half. Michigan shot 18 percent from the field, scored just 19 points and made only one of its last 10 field goal attempts — the lone make being an uncontested dunk with the game essentially over.

With no ability to counter Ohio State’s punches, the Wolverines will have to head back to Ann Arbor with its most frustrating loss of the season.

“They came at us,” Beilein said, “and we did not respond.”