COLUMBUS – The taunting rang loud and clear from the student section as the final seconds ticked off in the Michigan’s 76-63 loss last night at Value City Arena.

“N-I-T! N-I-T! N-I-T!”

“Just like football! Just like football!”

The common theme?

Both exemplify Michigan’s recent inability to gain the lead in its seemingly eternal competition with Ohio State.

While the Buckeyes gained a spot in the BCS National Championship game, Michigan settled for an appearance in the Rose Bowl.

And with Ohio State sporting two consecutive NCAA Tournament bids, the Wolverines have been relegated to the National Invitational Tournament in two of the past three seasons.

Last night, the two squads continued the trend.

Jim Tressel’s success against the Wolverines has been well-publicized, as the sweater-vest-clad coach is 5-1 against Michigan. But basketball coach Thad Matta enjoys even a better winning percentage versus the Maize and Blue, as his record against the Wolverines stands at a spotless 4-0 following last night’s victory.

Matta has turned a program once dealing with NCAA probation and tournament ineligibility into a perennial powerhouse, currently ranked No. 3 in the country.

But Michigan hung with the highly touted Buckeyes in this contest.

Senior Courtney Sims’s lay-up with 9:34 remaining cut the Ohio State lead to three, and Michigan had numerous chances in the next several possessions to cut even further into the margin.

But the Wolverines didn’t manage another field goal for almost five minutes, and an 11-2 Ohio State run put the game away.

“We couldn’t make the big stop . and it seemed like every time we cut (the lead), we couldn’t make the big play to get over the hump,” senior Dion Harris said.

Even coming off nine days of traveling that Matta said made him more nervous than he’s ever been before a game, the Buckeyes made plenty of big plays. And while freshman center Greg Oden garners all the publicity, it was a classmate of his who caused the biggest headaches for the Wolverines.

Point guard Mike Conley Jr. consistently knifed through the Michigan defense, and finished with a career-high 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting and a game-high six assists.

“I think (Conley) is as good, or better, than most point guards,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “He’s outstanding. He controls their team. He scores when it’s there, he takes care of the basketball, keeps everybody happy. He’s tremendous, and I thought he was certainly the difference for their team this evening.”

Oden made his presence felt, too, recording 15 points, eight rebounds (five offensive) and six blocks. The Indianapolis native retrieved his own miss and scored three separate times in the game, as the Wolverines struggled to box out throughout the contest. The Buckeyes managed 16 offensive rebounds, and those second chances led to 15 points.

It was these repeated tries at the basket that enabled Ohio State to pull away from Michigan and put a lid on each run the Wolverines attempted to make.

“They missed a couple shots, and then they’d get offensive rebounds and putbacks, or we’d foul them,” senior Courtney Sims said. “That’s something we just need to work on.”

While it struggled on the defensive end, Michigan recorded one of its best offensive nights in recent memory. The Wolverines shot 50 percent for the game, and recorded their best point total since its most recent win, five games ago against Purdue. Sims tallied 17 points and eight rebounds, and Harris added 14 points of his own.

And the good play on the offensive end seemed like something of a silver lining for Michigan, whose players took some positives away from the loss to the rival Buckeyes.

“If people see the score, they’re probably going to think we got blown out, but it was a lot closer than it seemed,” Sims said. “I think we played pretty well at certain times, and we slipped up for five minutes of the game, and that cost us (the game).”

The balance of power in this rivalry certainly didn’t change hands last night, but for a struggling team like Michigan, maybe 35 minutes of competitive basketball is a step in the right direction.

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