Sunday afternoon’s game at the Schottenstein Center lived up to the billing.
Michigan, ranked No. 3 in the Ferris Mowers men’s basketball coaches poll, and No. 4 Ohio State threw haymakers for 40 minutes in perhaps the most entertaining game of the season.
Neither team led by more than six points, and the lead changed hands numerous times over the course of the game. But Michigan overcame a career-best 30 points from Ohio State’s Duane Washington Jr. thanks to the contributions of center Hunter Dickinson, who scored 16 of his team-high 22 points in the second half and carried the Wolverines to a 92-87 win in Columbus, Ohio.
Eli Brooks scored 17 points, and Chaundee Brown scored 15 off the bench and played exemplary defense.
The Wolverines (16-1) are 11-1 in conference play, with five games remaining; because the conference title may now be determined by winning percentage, Sunday’s win was especially crucial considering the red-hot Buckeyes (18-5, 12-5) were in third place and are on pace to play more games than Michigan.
Michigan exacted some measure of vengeance against Ohio State, a team that has had its number in recent years and won both games last season.
Dickinson takes over
Michigan’s freshman center was double-teamed early and often. Yet it was not a deterrent. He made Ohio State pay by passing out of the post to open shooters, and his patience and vision were a big reason why the Wolverines made 10 of 13 threes in the first half.
Dickinson took over the second half, using his significant size advantage often. He grabbed offensive rebounds over smaller defenders, scoring numerous put-backs. He was in attack mode while posting up, drawing fouls and shooting 6 of 6 at the line. Dickinson entered on a bit of a slump, scoring in single digits over Michigan’s previous four games as he saw more attention. Sunday, he broke out of that rut in a big way — and showed why he is the easy front-runner to win Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
Both teams entered with top-10 offenses, according to KenPom.com — and Michigan and Ohio State each played to their full potential. The first half was one of the most entertaining stretches of college basketball all season, with both teams displaying high-level offense and shot-making ability. Washington made four of his first five shots, with two difficult threes and a tough layup over a defender. The biggest surprise: His ability to beat Eli Brooks off the dribble, as Washington made seven of his first eight by driving to the rim and scoring over Brooks.
EJ Liddell, meanwhile, was also unstoppable. He displayed his versatility by stepping out and hitting 2 of 3 threes and hit face-up jumpers out of the post.
Michigan’s defense gets stops at the right time
The Buckeyes had success with their smaller lineup. Liddell was able to drag Michigan’s centers out near the perimeter and he had several open looks from deep — defending stretch big men has been a weakness for the Wolverines all season. He finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds (four offensive) and three assists.
And while Ohio State’s early offense was buoyed by Washington’s ability to hit difficult shots, the Buckeyes began to get more dribble penetration and steadily generated better looks as the game continued. Michigan even went with a 2-3 zone for an extended time in the first half, a rarity considering the Wolverines mostly use zone as a change-up after stoppages and out of halftime; Ohio State simply carved right through it. Despite holding a size advantage, Michigan gave up five first-half offensive rebounds that culminated in 10 second-chance points for Ohio State.
Still, the Wolverines’ top-10 defense showed up at the right time. After the Buckeyes retook the lead with a 10-2 run, Michigan took it right back with a 6-0 run that was spurred by two forced turnovers that led to transition layups. Then, with just over two and a half minutes left, Isaiah Livers stole an errant pass and converted an and-one to stretch the lead to five. Shortly after, Dickinson blocked a jumper from Liddell.