A day to remember turned into a senior day to forget.
With a capacity crowd roaring and nearly half the team being honored before their final game at Value City Arena, No. 23 Ohio State fell behind by double digits near the midpoint of the second half and dropped a 75-69 regular-season finale to Michigan (16-14, 10-10).
The loss sends Ohio State into the Big Ten tournament having dropped three of its final four games.
The Buckeyes pulled within 60-56 with 5:02 to play when Malaki Branham knocked down a pair of free throws. That gave Ohio State a 12-4 run and forced a Michigan timeout.
But the Wolverines resumed their ball-screen offense, putting the ball in the hands of graduate transfer guard DeVante’ Jones. He carved through the Ohio State defense to push the lead back to six, and after an empty possession Jones drew a defender and fed Moussa Diabate for a wide-open dunk that gave Michigan a 64-56 lead.
It was insurmountable, and after a final E.J. Liddell miss the Michigan bench waved goodbye to the Ohio State crowd. The Buckeyes did not hold any senior day festivities following the game, citing Sunday night’s home hockey game with Penn State and the need for a quick turnaround.
Three days after Michigan State coach Tom Izzo called out Ohio State fans after his team’s loss, a sold-out crowd created an environment befitting the first time Ohio State had hosted Michigan on senior day since the 1996-97 season. By the time the teams came out for warmups, the student sections were filled and in full voice. Some came with “Where’s Waldo?” photos featuring a photoshopped face of Michigan coach Juwan Howard, who missed his fifth game after being suspended for a postgame altercation at Wisconsin on Feb. 20. Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann even dusted off his salmon-colored suit for the occasion.
He wasn’t the only notable absence as both teams were minus a key player. Ohio State’s Kyle Young missed a second straight game due to concussion protocol, and the man he would have been matched up with, Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson, was also unavailable due to an illness. Young took part in the pregame senior day festivities but was not on the bench for the game.
The crowd grew increasingly agitated in the opening moments of the second half. With the Buckeyes leading 37-30 at the break, Michigan turned up its defense and took control. A Liddell jumper gave the Buckeyes a 39-34 lead, but they would turn it over on three straight possessions as Michigan tied the game at 39 on an Eli Brooks 3-pointer. Malaki Branham would trade buckets with the Wolverines to push the Buckeyes back ahead 43-42, but Michigan scored on six of its next seven possessions to take a 56-44 lead when Ohio State called timeout with 10:13 to play.
That amounted to a 14-1 run, and Michigan led by a game-high 58-46 with 8:51 remaining before Ohio State mounted some resistance that wouldn’t be enough.
Branham led the Buckeyes with 18 points while Liddell, playing in his final home game, had 16 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Senior Justin Ahrens had 12 points.
After a pregame ceremony honoring seven players and six managers, both teams came out hot and played to a 13-13 tie before Liddell broke a combined stretch of eight straight empty possessions with a three-point play. The blocking foul on Michigan’s Terrance Williams II was the first called on either team, and at 10:46 it gave the Buckeyes a 16-13 lead.
Michigan would answer with consecutive drives from Frankie Collins around Ohio State’s Gene Brown III to reclaim the lead, and the Wolverines would lead 23-22 with 6:28 to play before Liddell and Joey Brunk closed the half with a flourish. Liddell scored seven straight points for the Buckeyes to reclaim the lead at 29-26, and after Moussa Diabate pulled Michigan back within one, Brunk again got going.
He finished a hook shot from the left block for a 31-28 lead. Then he scored from the right block to make it 33-28. Then he threw down a slam dunk on the next possession to cap a personal 6-0 run, give Ohio State a 35-28 lead and force Michigan to call timeout with 1:06 remaining with the crowd roaring with each successive make. Malaki Branham would score on a drive to the basket, and Williams hit a jumper in the final seconds to give the Buckeyes a 37-30 halftime lead.
Sophomore center Zed Key, who missed the last two games after injuring his right ankle at Maryland last Sunday, returned as a reserve but limped to the locker room after an awkward first-half fall that appeared to tweak the same ankle. He would briefly appear during the second half.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism