INDIANAPOLIS — Hailey Brown walked off the court three minutes into the second quarter, her head hung low, and slammed a towel down on the scorer’s table. The junior forward turned the ball over twice in the last minute and missed her first four shots of the game.
Brown’s frustration was a microcosm of a larger issue that held the Michigan women’s basketball team back in its 66-60 loss to Ohio State on Saturday night. Throughout the game, the Wolverines secondary scorers struggled to create any offense.
“They were definitely disruptive,” Brown said. “They clogged the paint a lot so it was hard to get some looks at the rim.”
When Michigan lost to the Buckeyes on Jan. 9, sophomore forward Naz Hillmon was the only consistent source of scoring, finishing with 24 points. Senior forward Kayla Robbins complemented Hillmon early on, but foul trouble forced her to sit the final seven minutes of the first half and she couldn’t get back into a rhythm upon her return.
In the second half of that game, with nobody providing offense outside of Hillmon, Ohio State was to stage a fourth-quarter comeback and win a game Michigan controlled for its majority.
Which takes us to Saturday.
Once again, Hillmon got going early, scoring six first-quarter points, while four other players added a basket each, and the Wolverines took a two-point lead into the second quarter.
But in the second, nobody could create besides her as she scored seven of Michigan’s 10 points in the quarter.
Driving lanes were closed for sophomore guard Amy Dilk and senior guard Akienreh Johnson, forcing them to try to generate offense from the perimeter. The open 3-point shots that Brown had made a living on in the past two games disappeared — she only attempted one in the second quarter.
“They always wanted to stop our dribble penetration and kind of clog the paint so we couldn’t get anything in to Naz or Hailey or (freshman center Izabel Varejão), so that was pretty tough,” sophomore guard Danielle Rauch said. “(They) clogged the paint, and then some of our shots weren’t falling on the outside so it got tough.”
By halftime, no Michigan player besides Hillmon had made more than one field goal and the Wolverines trailed by six. Ohio State had all the incentive it needed to focus solely on her and force other players to beat it.
“They’re so long and athletic, it was kind of hard to get the skip passes and the extra passes like we did the first time,” Johnson said. “Our ball movement was very stagnant.”
Hillmon struggled in the third quarter while drawing even more attention, scoring just four points at a 40 percent clip. Michigan’s offense looked lost early on — they committed turnovers on their first three possessions of the half — before Brown and Johnson got going.
Johnson was finally able to find space in the paint and knocked down open jumpers. Brown got to the line twice and connected on a 3-pointer late in the quarter. Both scored six points in the third quarter as the Wolverines cut a 12-point Buckeye lead to just four entering the fourth.
“We just knew that they were double-teaming Naz so we had to make ourselves available,” Johnson said. “We started cutting and moving without the ball. And then we started setting more screens, actually running plays, getting people open shots.”
Brown hit an early triple in the fourth quarter and Rauch made a pull-up jumper two possessions later to tie it, but after that the secondary scoring once again dried up. Ohio State focused more on the perimeter and the open shots that Michigan did get didn’t fall. By the time a player besides Hillmon scored again, the Buckeyes led by eight with two minutes left in the game.
And when Johnson finally got an open 3-pointer to fall with two seconds left — her first basket of the fourth quarter — it didn’t matter. There were no smiles.
Only frustration they couldn’t get those shots earlier.