Ann Arbor — Michigan had suffered a couple crushing defeats at Crisler Center this season.
The Wolverines were handed a third on Tuesday night.
Michigan let three leads in the final three minutes slip away and senior guard Zavier Simpson was called for a pivotal flagrant-1 foul with 33 seconds remaining in a 61-58 loss to Ohio State.
"It doesn't feel good at all,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “It's going to be hard to sleep not just for myself but all the players, staff and I'm sure a lot of the Michigan fans because I know they are a ton of folks that left this building really upset with the outcome.”
Trailing 57-56 with under a minute to go, Simpson got downhill, drove to his left and was fouled on a layup attempt by Ohio State’s Kyle Young. On the way down, Simpson reached out, grabbed Young’s jersey across the chest and ripped it as he went crashing to the court. Simpson's grab caused Young to stumble a bit before he tripped over a photographer along the baseline.
The call on the floor initially was a common foul on Young. But after Young showed an official the tear on the front of his jersey, the officiating crew looked at the play and Simpson was assessed a flagrant after the review.
Howard said he tried to get a look at the same replay the officials had watched on the monitor near Michigan's bench, but he wasn't allowed.
“I started to look at it when I was talking to the referee," Howard said. "He told the guy to shut it off immediately. I was like, 'Wow, let me see what happened.'”
Howard said he was also baffled and “couldn’t believe” the explanation he received from the official.
“It was explained that Zavier went up for a layup and as he was coming down he grabbed his jersey and ripped it. So I was like, 'OK, grabbed his jersey and ripped it?' He said, 'Yeah, look at his jersey. It's ripped,'" Howard said. "A former basketball player like myself, I'm looking and if he's going up — and this is how I'm thinking — I asked him if he's going up and he's falling, did he grab him to brace his fall? He said, 'Yes.'
"Well I guess that means he needed some help and didn't want to absorb the contact and the momentum hitting the floor. And that was it. At the end of the day, we have to respect the call that was made.”
Like Howard, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann didn’t notice Simpson's grab in real time. However, Holtmann said he wasn’t surprised by the flagrant call after seeing Young’s ripped jersey, which he had to swap out for a nameless backup jersey.
“They were clear in what they called — foul on our guy on the shot and then a flagrant-1 for pulling him down with his jersey,” Holtmann said.
Michigan freshman wing Franz Wagner said the Wolverines were surprised at the outcome of the call but that isn't why they lost the game.
Redshirt junior center Austin Davis said when word of Simpson's flagrant reached the huddle, the reaction "obviously wasn't good."
"The refs are out there trying to do their job the best they can," Davis said. "People make mistakes. It is what it is. That's the call. Got to try to fight through it, play through it."
When play resumed, Simpson and Young each made two free throws as Ohio State maintained a one-point lead and got the ball.
On the ensuing possession, Michigan (13-9, 4-7 Big Ten) tried to force a turnover and 16 seconds drained off the clock before Wagner fouled Ohio State’s CJ Walker with 17 seconds remaining.
"We tried to trap. We got a trap and we wanted a steal, almost got the steal and then we had to immediately foul,” Howard said. “That was my message. Let's go for a steal first and then if we don't get the steal, foul. We had plenty of time.”
Walker made the two free throws to put Ohio State up 61-58. With a chance to tie it and force overtime, Michigan drew up a play that got Eli Brooks a clean 3-point look from the corner, but his shot bounced off the rim and the ball was tipped out of bounds.
It became the latest heartbreaking finish at home, joining the defeats to Illinois on a last-second shot and to Oregon on a missed layup and tip-in on the game’s final play.
"It's a tough one to swallow, I swear. Like all the losses," Howard said. "This one hurts a lot. It was a very hard-fought game. Both teams competed extremely hard. It reminded me of the old-school Big Ten — physical, sludge matches, ugly, shots not being made, people driving to the basket getting fouled, no calls. That's a part of the Big Ten."
Simpson finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists, Davis added 11 points off the bench and Wagner had eight points and 14 rebounds. The Wolverines shot 33.3 percent (20-for-60) from the field, a season low at home, and 32.3 percent (10-for-31) from 3-point range.
Despite the parade of missed jumpers and layups, the Wolverines led by at least two points three times down the stretch. The problem is they couldn't close it out during the back-and-forth finish.
After Davis capped a 7-0 run with a layup to make it 49-46 with 5:36 remaining, Ohio State’s Duane Washington Jr. drained a 3-pointer to give the Buckeyes a two-point lead.
After back-to-back layups by Davis put Michigan back in front, Kaleb Wesson converted a three-point play to put Ohio State on top, 54-53, with 2:21 to go.
And then after Brooks splashed a 3-pointer, Washington responded again with another deep ball for a 57-56 edge with 54 seconds left.
Wesson finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds, Washington scored 17 and Young had 12 points for Ohio State (15-7, 5-6), which shot 42.1 percent (24-for-57) from the field.
"We expected a game that was going to be something similar to this in terms of how physical they are, how physical we play. I thought it was that," Holtmann said. "It was a game where we made a couple more shots. Certainly, they ran a great set there to get an open 3. If that goes down, maybe it's a different game.
"I thought Kaleb was fantastic tonight leading the way. I just thought he imposed himself in a lot of ways. Kyle and CJ's made free throws there were critical as well as Duane's made shots."
But not as critical as all the missed open looks and Simpson’s flagrant foul swing that put the Buckeyes ahead for good. Add it all up, it resulted in the Wolverines losing their third straight at home for the first time since the 2014-15 season, the last time Michigan missed the NCAA Tournament.
“I think we were in the game the whole game,” Wagner said. “We didn't play exceptionally well. Sometimes that just happens. But you've got to be able to still win the game, especially at home. It hurts a lot."