Photo Credit: AnnArbor.com
For the third time this season, Michigan was close enough to a signature win to taste it. For the third time the Wolverines just couldn’t make enough plays down the stretch to win the game. This team is close and anyone with a pair of eyes and a high definition television can see that, but they aren’t there yet.
The first half was neck and neck as both teams played flawless offensive games. Despite just 26 possessions in the half, Ohio State led 35-34 at the intermission. Ohio State grabbed control of the game with a 12-0 run over five minutes in the middle of the second half. During that Ohio State run, Michigan had eight consecutive empty possessions – three missed jump shots and five turnovers. With such a slow game, wasting eight possessions is basically throwing away 15% of your chances to score with bad shots or silly turnovers – certainly not a recipe for success.
Michigan was able to battle back into the game with a run of its own, trimming the Buckeye lead to a single possession down the stretch. With 22 seconds remaining a chance to cut the lead to one point, Zack Novak made two of three free throws and Michigan was unable to complete the comeback as Ohio State hit their free throws down the stretch.
The “young team” meme feels like it has been beaten to death, but at this point it’s simply reality. Ohio State was not only the more talented team, they were significantly more experienced. To Michigan’s credit, young teams are also supposed to crumble when the going gets tough. Despite falling behind by 12 points with 11 minutes to play, the Wolverines didn’t crumble, they battled back. That’s not to say Michigan hasn’t’ fallen apart this year, they have (Purdue, Wisconsin, etc.), but it was still impressive to see them battle back into a game versus a more talented team for the second straight outing.
With just 57 possessions, the game was played at Michigan’s preferred deliberate tempo. Unfortunately Michigan just couldn’t get enough stops on the defensive end. Ohio State shot the ball extremely well with an effective field goal percentage of 61% – 54% on twos and 50% on threes. Despite the Buckeyes grabbing some crucial offensive rebounds, Michigan was strong on the defensive glass again, rebounding 73% of Ohio State’s missed shots. The biggest different in the game was Ohio State’s lofty free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 60% thanks to 25 free throw attempts.
Michigan contained Jared Sullinger as well as any team has done all season. The talented big man finished with 12 points on 4 of 6 shooting, seven rebounds, and six turnovers. Michigan threw the kitchen sink at Sullinger and dared Ohio State’s supporting cast to make them pay, they did. In the first half it was Will Buford, who had 14 first half points, but David Lighty carried the torch in the second.
Despite a painful drought in the middle of the second half, Michigan played extremely well offensively. The Wolverines actually outshot the Buckeyes, with an eFG% of 64% – 59% on twos, 46% on threes. The problem for Michigan was that it just couldn’t get to the line with just 7 free throw attempts on the game. I’ve developed high standards in the turnover department over the past several years but I was disappointed by Michigan turning the ball over on 21% of its possessions. Most disheartening was the fact that a majority of the turnovers were unforced or due to bad decisions. As per usual, Michigan didn’t attack the offensive glass and rebounded just 17% of its misses. Under John Beilein, Michigan has only lost one Big Ten game in which it played this efficiently, 1.12 points per possession, or better on offense and that was versus Ohio State last year in the Big Ten Tournament.
Michigan’s play over the last two weeks was slightly encouraging but the final record over that stretch was 1-4, which isn’t encouraging by any measure. Michigan has already dropped three Big Ten games, two at home, and that’s not a great start to conference play. The net three games (at Indiana, at Northwestern, and Minnesota) provide a different type of test as they are all winnable, per say, but will be very difficult.
Photo Credit: AnnArbor.com
- Darius Morris: Michigan needs Morris, badly. Michigan also can’t afford to have Morris throw away 5 or 6 possessions per game. His stat line was still strong: 18 points on 8 of 15 (0-3 3pt) shooting with 8 assists, five rebounds, and five turnovers. Morris is learning how to balance the line of “doing too much” and “not doing enough” and he’s going to have to learn while being thrown in the fire.
- Zack Novak: Novak did just about everything within his power to keep Michigan in this game as he finished with 16 points on 5 of 7 (4-5 3pt) shooting, two steals, and two rebounds. He also took a pair of charges. Everyone is going to remember that he missed a free throw in the final minute that could have cut the game to 1 point but you can’t forget about the first 39 minutes of game.Novak has found an offensive groove over the last four games, averaging 15 points and six rebounds per game with an eFG% of 85%.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan’s habit of picking up ticky tack fouls is maddening and it was in full effect today. If my memory is correct, only one of Morgan’s fouls was on Sullinger, the rest were fighting for loose balls, being late for help defense, or something along those lines. Morgan finished with 0 points, two rebounds, two turnovers, a block, and a steal in 19 minutes. He was facing off versus a top 5 NBA Draft pick so he gets some benefit of the doubt but today was not a good day. When Morgan tries to make something happen with the ball in his hands, it typically doesn’t work out well.
- Evan Smotrycz: This was one of Smotrycz’s best games of the season, I’ll credit his strong play to Zack Novak’s Boston accent in the BTN introductions. Smotrycz was feeling the jumpshot — 5 of 9 (4-6 3pt) – but he also rebounded the ball well – 6 rebounds – and battled admirably against Jared Sullinger.,
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: He still gets lost occasionally on defense but he played strong on the ball defense and continues to steadily improve on defense. Offensively he had 11 points on 4 of 8 (3-7 3pt) shooting. He shot the ball well but needs to continue to be more aggressive taking the ball the hole with just one two point attempt and zero free throws today
- Stu Douglass: Douglass is lost offensively right now he finished with 2 points, 2 assists, and one turnover in 30 minutes. Stu shot Michigan to victory in a few games earlier this year but now you can tell that his recent struggles are affecting his confidence. Today, Douglass was barely looking for his shot until he airballed a late three ball.
- Jon Horford: Horford only played 6 minutes, and he did come up with a nice three point play off of a pick and roll, but he just couldn’t handle Sullinger’s strength inside. I assume that Beilein’s decision to play Smotrycz at the five revolved around the fact that both big guys are going to get pushed around and Smotrycz is a more versatile offensive player
- Matt Vogrich: Just six minutes for Vogrich and he missed both of his three point attempts.