COLUMBUS — Halfway through the Michigan men’s basketball team’s game at No. 9 Ohio State, John Beilein was finally seeing things pay off. With his two stars — junior Manny Harris and senior DeShawn Sims — struggling to find a rhythm, the Wolverines’ role players were finally providing a lift.
Sophomores Zack Novak and Stu Douglass and freshman Darius Morris took a rare collective turn, carrying the team and combining for 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Michigan found itself up one point at the break, leaving the packed crowd at the Value City Arena scratching their heads. Beilein called it one of the best halves his team has played all year.
But with each incremental bit of success the Wolverines have had this season, things have tended to regress toward the mean. Saturday’s second half saw a more familiar role reversal, as cold shooting and poor defense buried Michigan once again as the team fell 66-55 to the Buckeyes.
The Wolverines shot just 6-of-23 in the second stanza. With Sims and Harris marginalized in the offense, the underclassmen couldn’t sustain their scoring punch against Ohio State’s mixing defenses. Novak, Douglass and Morris combined for 4-of-12 from the field.
“We had some breakdowns just in timing in what we were trying to do, that we didn’t seem to have in the first half,” Beilein said. “Very typical of this team, being in situations where the adversity hits a little bit, and we go into tape delay a little bit. That’s been the frustrating part of the year.”
The Buckeyes began throwing in their own version of the 1-3-1 zone defense after Michigan (6-10 Big Ten, 13-15 overall) shot 46 percent in the first frame against man coverage. As missed shots piled up, Ohio State guards William Buford and Evan Turner kept finding the net from start to finish. The duo scored 24 and 18 points, respectively, shooting a combined 65 percent from the floor.
Buford and Turner generated high-percentage jump shots and lay ups against whomever the Wolverines threw at them — typically guards weighing 15-30 pounds lighter than the two Buckeyes.
With Buford and Turner able to power their way near the rim, the defensive scheme was essentially a game of “pick your poison.”
“They’re just so talented, and Turner is certainly one of the few guys that you can just give the ball to at 17 feet (from the rim) and he make a shot over somebody at 10,” Beilein said. “There’s not a lot of guys that can do this though on somebody, and there’s not a lot of defenses for that.
“We try to get the ball out of his hands as much as we could and create turnovers for fastbreak opportunities. Unfortunately, he found Buford too many (times) as well. You have to give up something to take something away.”
With Michigan at a clear disadvantage in overall talent, the zone defense was its best chance to keep the game close — and for a while, it worked. The Wolverines stayed active in the passing lanes and forced seven first-half turnovers, which led to 12 points.
But those gaps in the zone seemed to get bigger as the second half wore on. The Buckeyes (13-4, 23-7) consistently found open cutters to the rim — either off pick and rolls or on the baseline. The biggest beneficiary was perhaps center Dallas Lauderdale, who finished with an easy 14 points off 7-of-9 shooting.
“There’s all kinds of residual stuff that goes on when you have a great player like Evan who both sees and then you have scorers on the outside who can get into the lane,” Beilein said. “(Lauderdale) knows his role and he does it well. He’s not out there crying if he doesn’t get the ball. He just hangs around the rim, he’s going to get the ball a lot — when they miss. They don’t miss a lot.”