Columbus, Ohio — The victory over Purdue last Saturday just put Michigan on the inside of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
The Wolverines might have hopped on over to the other side after this one.
Another frigid first half of shooting, coupled with Caris LeVert’s latest absence from the court, doomed Michigan, which fell 76-66 to Ohio State on Tuesday night at Value City Arena.
“We just gotta have that mentality that we’ve gotta have that chip on our shoulder,” Zak Irvin said. “We kind of lost that tonight. We’ve gotta get it back.”
This was the first time this season Michigan (19-8, 9-5 Big Ten) has lost to an unranked opponent, and it was an Ohio State team that hadn’t beaten anybody of substance in the Big Ten and hadn’t had a signature victory of any kind since Kentucky in December.
Still, coach John Beilein acknowledged he was a bit concerned about the Buckeyes, who used their length to expose the Wolverines in the post.
Ohio State (17-10, 9-5), tied with Michigan and Purdue for fifth, scored half its points in the paint (38), and 17 from the free-throw line as Michigan struggled to stay out of foul trouble.
Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman missed key stretches, picking up second fouls in the first half and third not deep into the second.
“Their length was just too much for us,” Beilein said. “They posted us up at three, four different positions, and they got easy shots out of those postups.
“Ohio State, they got us. That’s all there is to it.”
On a night when Ohio State retired Evan Turner’s No. 21 — and the raucous crowd cheered wildly at halftime when the video board showed his buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Michigan in the 2010 Big Ten tournament — no such heroics were needed as Michigan never got closer than seven points in the second half.
Even when Michigan would connect on a 3-pointer — it was 5-for-24 (21.4 percent) — Ohio State always seemed to answer. The Wolverines couldn’t get nearly enough stops as the Buckeyes shot 59.1 percent (13-for-22) in the second half.
This happened one game after Michigan put on a defensive clinic in stunning Purdue.
“We’ve just gotta bring it every game,” said Mark Donnal, who led Michigan with 17 points — his most since scoring 26 in the Big Ten opener against Illinois. “Unfortunately, we just didn’t bring it tonight.
“There’s no excuse for having a bad defensive game.”
Jae’Sean Tate, before he fouled out, and Marc Loving scored 13 apiece to lead five Buckeyes in double figures.
For Michigan, Irvin scored 15 and Derrick Walton Jr. 13, although each shot 5-for-14.
Irvin added nine rebounds — Michigan outrebounded Ohio State, 34-31 — and Walton five assists.
The first half was a killer for the Wolverines, who shot 33.3 percent (9-for-27), 21.4 percent on 3-pointers (3-for-14). Michigan kept it tight down the stretch in the first half, but with Abdur-Rahkman, a good defender, on the bench with foul trouble, Tate scored seven to put Ohio State up 36-28.
“The togetherness, it showed,” said Tate, whose Buckeyes are trying to get on the NCAA Tournament bubble. “We stayed with it. We actually grew up a lot today.”
Michigan, which has three tough games left against Maryland (on Sunday), Wisconsin and Iowa, took a step back.
And that’s to say nothing of LeVert, who missed 11 games with a lower leg injury, returned for 11 minutes against Purdue, and then was a scratch Tuesday after feeling pain that kept him out of practice the day before.
LeVert’s absence doesn’t hurt Michigan just at the front of the lineup, but at the back end, too. The Wolverines have zero depth, and are having to play their stars, Irvin and Walton, 37 to 38 minutes a night.
“Every team in the Big Ten goes through it,” Irvin said. “We just have to keep our heads up.”
UM's John Beilein meets the media Tuesday following a loss to Ohio State in Columbus.