CHICAGO – For months, NBA scouts have anointed Ohio State freshman Greg Oden the consensus No. 1 pick in June’s NBA Draft.
And in the second half of Michigan’s 72-62 loss to the top-ranked Buckeyes on Friday, Oden showed why.
The loss ensured that the Wolverines – still without a marquee victory away from Crisler Arena – would be without an NCAA Tournament appearance for a ninth-consecutive season
After allowing Ohio State to jump out to a 12-point lead to begin the second half of its quarterfinal Big Ten Tournament game. Michigan narrowed the deficit to just three following a 3-pointer by senior Lester Abram.
That’s when Oden ended any doubt about his talent, and in the process, any chance of the Wolverines reaching the Big Dance for the first time since 1998.
He poured in five consecutive points to give the Buckeyes a cushion they would never again relinquish.
“Every time they would bring it down, they would get it to Oden, and he would either get fouled or get a layup,” said Abram, who finished with 13 points after going 1-for-10 from the field in Thursday’s opening-round win over Minnesota. “The bad thing was that every time you knew where the ball was about to go, but we really just couldn’t stop it. He buries himself under the basket, and once he gets down there, what can you do with him?”
For the game, Oden had 22 points, including 15 coming the second half. But his presence wasn’t felt in just the scoring column. The freshman had eight rebounds and four blocks, and disrupted countless Michigan endeavors to the paint.
From the moment Ohio State came out of the locker room for the second half, it was clear that Oden had decided enough was enough. He hit a jump hook on the Buckeyes’ opening possession. He followed that a minute later by stuffing Michigan senior Courtney Sims twice in a row on point-blank layup attempts.
Michigan had some success defending Oden early on, limiting him to just three field-goal attempts in the first half. But Sims picked up his fourth foul with more than eight minutes remaining in the game.
When Sims went to the bench, Oden scored seven consecutive points for the Buckeyes, consistently manhandling smaller defenders like freshman Ekpe Udoh and senior Brent Petway.
“It just happened that he didn’t get in foul trouble, so he was in the game longer,” Sims said. “I got calls, but unfortunately they weren’t on him. It just works out that way sometimes. He’s a good shot blocker, so when he blocks shots, the refs expect him not to foul. He’s got a good reputation, so he’s going to get calls like that.”
It didn’t help Michigan that its top scorer, senior Dion Harris, was a horrendous 1-for-13 from the floor, netting just nine points in his final Big Ten Tournament appearance.
And after the Buckeyes’ 11-4 second-half run, the Wolverines could not be careless with the ball. But Harris and point guard Jerret Smith committed five turnovers apiece. Michigan had 16 turnovers as a team.
“It wasn’t anything they did, it was just sometimes we were lackadaisical with the ball,” Abram said. “We had some turnovers in critical moments of the game, and if we had been able to get shots, you don’t know where the game could have gone.”
Despite the poor play of its stars, Michigan kept itself close because of its aggressiveness on the glass. The Wolverines had 22 offensive rebounds and outboarded the Buckeyes, 47-25.
But Michigan learned the hard way that sometimes a talented player like Oden can negate any sort of effort and hustle advantage a team may have.
And sometimes what you really want – an NCAA Tournament berth – you just can’t have.
“In high school you watch college basketball and that’s what you watch, the Tournament,” Sims said. “Your dream is to make it, and to not make it all four years you are here, that’s a huge disappointment. It’s something that I’m never going to be able to accomplish.”