ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Win out and No. 8 Ohio State had nothing to worry — it would be the Big Ten regular-season champion. After Thursday’s derailment at unranked Penn State, the two-loss Buckeyes had no breathing room in Sunday’s matchup at No. 22 Michigan.
Now, the conference title at the end of an improbable regular season is no longer in their control.
Senior forward Jae’Sean Tate scored 20 points and had a career-high 15 rebounds, but the offensive output wasn’t found from other players for the Buckeyes (22-7, 13-3 Big Ten) in their 74-62 loss to Michigan (22-7, 11-5 Big Ten). Michigan freshman Jordan Poole scored a surprising 15 points while Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led with 17 and Moritz Wagner added 12.
“Losing up here to them, it hurts,” Tate said. “But at the end of the day, we still got two more Big Ten games to play and we just got to learn from it.”
Redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop scored 17 points, but struggled from the field, shooting 5-of-17. This is the second game in a row Bates-Diop had difficulty shooting, which has coincided with Ohio State’s issues from the field as well.
The issues of ball movement and playing against a physical opponent resurfaced against Michigan in a game Ohio State seemingly had to have in order to win the conference title next week. Now the Buckeyes sit a game back of Michigan State and are reeling a bit coming into the end of the season.
“I just think that we haven’t been the team that’s been more hungrier,” Tate said. “We could blame it on thinking that we had a two-game lead in the Big Ten, but I feel like teams have had us on our heels whereas in the past where we’ve won, we are the ones that have been the aggressors. We just got to get back to that.”
The Buckeyes were on the track to do just that multiple times in the second half. When Michigan scored the first three points of the second half to take an eight-point lead, the Buckeyes went on a 6-0 run to cut the deficit to 36-34. The Wolverines then grew their lead to nine after back-to-back layups with 10:40 remaining. Ohio State shrunk that to four with a layup from Tate and Bates-Diop’s second 3 of the game.
Trailing 55-52 with 7:53 on the clock after a Tate-made free throw, Poole connected on his fourth 3 of the game from the right corner.
Ohio State then went nearly six minutes — from 8:30 to 2:53 remaining — without a bucket.
Out of the final media timeout, Michigan began to pull away from their rivals. Abdur-Rahman drilled a 3 from the top of the key and Wagner came down the floor on the next possession to complete a 3-point play that put the Wolverines up 68-55 with 2:12 remaining.
The Wolverines led since seven minutes remained in the first half, but the Buckeyes were within striking distance until the final minutes. Only when they had their chance, they could never get over the hump.
Junior point guard C.J. Jackson scored his lone points on a 3 in the first half and finished with zero assists, following his one-assist performance at Penn State. Ohio State recorded just eight assists on 24 field goals and committed 14 turnovers.
Moving forward, Holtmann said he might use Tate and Bates-Diop to alleviate some pressure from primary ballhanders Jackson and redshirt senior guard Andrew Dakich.
“Obviously it was a concern coming into the season, not just our depth, but our ability to manage that,” Holtmann said. “We just have to challenge our guards to make better decisions in some of those situations. I’m confident they will. It’s not necessarily their strength, but I’m optimistic they will.”
After both teams shot 41 percent in the first half, Michigan’s offense came to life with 56.5 percent shooting in the second frame, and its defense held Ohio State to 41.9 percent.
Ohio State returns to Columbus for its final home game against Rutgers at 7 p.m. Tuesday.