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Men’s Basketball: Ohio State flips script; comes up with comeback of its own

Ohio State senior forward Jae’Sean Tate (1) goes up for a contested layup in the first half in the game against Michigan on Dec. 4. Ohio State won 71-62. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

College basketball games are defined by big runs and significant swings of momentum. One of the knocks on Ohio State last season was it could not capture big wins when teams went on runs down the stretch.

That appeared to be the case this season. In Ohio State’s losses to Gonzaga, Butler and Clemson, the Buckeyes had been on the wrong side of game-changing momentum swings.

On Monday, for the first time this season, the Scarlet and Gray flipped the script.  

After suffering losses — which included an eight-minute scoring lapse where Gonzaga stretched a two-point lead to 13, blowing a 15-point second-half lead to Butler and a 13-point lead to Clemson — Ohio State overcame a 20-point deficit to defeat Michigan 71-62 Monday night at the Schottenstein Center.

“It’s a long time coming,” redshirt senior guard Kam Williams said. “Before, I don’t think we understood what it takes to overcome a hole like that. Coach [Chris Holtmann] is always implementing ‘win every possession.’ So we know if we chip away every single possession, giving maximum effort — something we weren’t doing in the first half — I feel like we can achieve anything.”

The Buckeyes appeared on their way to their fourth loss of the season, struggling to find any semblance of offensive consistency.

But they found some life late in the first half. Trailing 43-23 with 1:31 left in the half, Ohio State kept itself in the game with a rare five-point play. Redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop hit a 3-pointer while Kaleb Wesson simultaneously drew a foul. The basket counted and the freshman forward knocked down a pair of free throws.

On the Buckeyes’ next possession, senior forward Jae’Sean Tate drove to his right and threw down a thunderous dunk, igniting the home crowd and closing the halftime deficit on a 7-0 run, bringing the score to 43-30.

“I think it was the turning point,” Williams said. “It was pretty loud in there. I haven’t really heard the Schott that loud. His dunk set it off. The rest of the guys on the floor and then that just tied into us being extra energetic on defense.”

With the Buckeyes trailing 43-31 and the Wolverines comfortably ahead, Bates-Diop deflected a pass and dove on the ball with 18:23 remaining. Bates-Diop passed the ball to guard C.J. Jackson following his steal, and Jackson led Tate toward the rim for a fastbreak dunk to cut the Michigan lead to 10.

Bates-Diop’s hustle jolted the Buckeyes. They appeared to have much more energy and activity after seeing the extra effort displayed by one of the team’s leaders.

“Defense definitely sparked it,” Bates-Diop said. “We were more active in the first four minutes [of the second half]. That’s when we really started our run.”

A few possessions later, Bates-Diop gave the Buckeyes a 49-46 lead to cap off a 26-3 Ohio State run spanning 10 minutes and 35 seconds.

The Buckeyes pushed their lead to 56-51 and seemed to be in control of the game, but the Wolverines battled back with a 9-0 run. Michigan briefly seized momentum, and it looked like Ohio State might let another game slip away.

Tate ended the Buckeyes’ scoring lull with a tough turnaround hook. The 6-foot-4 forward’s basket represented the first Ohio State field goal during a stretch of more than 4 1/2 minutes.

Still trailing, Williams drove baseline and hit a pull-up jumper to tie the game at 60.

Jackson made one free throw and Bates-Diop knocked down a pair of free throws to give the Buckeyes a 63-60 lead with 2:15 remaining.

Ohio State’s players raised their arms to pump up their home crowd on the ensuing possession. Many of the 12,546 fans in attendance roared and the Buckeyes fed off the energy, stopping the Wolverines’ pivotal scoring attempt.

“We knew in the first half if we would have kept playing like that, we would have got ran out the gym. And you definitely don’t want that in front of your home fans,” Williams said. “So, we just made little adjustments, played a little harder and coach was like, ‘If they get another loose ball — that can’t happen.’ So we just dialed it in on the defensive end and we know that’s gonna make it easier for our offense, and we made those plays down the stretch to win.”

Jackson grabbed the rebound and calmly stepped to the foul line. He hit both attempts, extending the Buckeyes’ lead to 65-60 with 1:46 left.

Tate came up with a crucial steal with 1:08 remaining. The Buckeyes failed to capitalize offensively, but Bates-Diop locked up Michigan guard Charles Matthews on his drive to the hoop. Jackson and Bates-Diop combined for six more free throws to seal the victory.

Ohio State won its first game of the season in which it trailed at halftime and its first game in which it trailed with five minutes left. Holtmann said the Buckeyes’ shortcomings in prior games helped them against the Wolverines.

“We learned a lot from some of these games in the past two weeks where we didn’t play with enough poise down the stretch, and as coaches and players we all take responsibility for that,” Holtmann said. “And then a game today where they did just play with the necessary poise and more importantly, a real determination to be different than what we were in the first half.”

A season ago or even a week ago the Buckeyes might have faltered facing a 20-point deficit. But Monday against Michigan they showed something they have lacked — composure combined with an unrelenting will to win.

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