'Like a boxing match': No. 3 Michigan delivers resounding blow, dumps No. 4 Ohio State
A meeting of two of the top teams in the nation. A preview of potential Final Four contenders and No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
Sunday’s showdown between No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Ohio State didn't disappoint as the rivals put on an offensive show in a battle of Big Ten heavyweights.
When the dust settled, the Wolverines were able to outlast the Buckeyes, 92-87, in the rivalry’s first top-five matchup thanks to a huge second-half performance from freshman center Hunter Dickinson.
“It was like a boxing match,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “One team delivered a blow. The other team delivers another blow. It kept going back and forth. Our guys showed their mental toughness through some of those ups and downs.”
Dickinson had 22 points — 16 points coming in the second half — and nine rebounds for Michigan (16-1, 11-1 Big Ten), which snapped a four-game losing streak in Columbus and won at Value City Arena for the first time since Feb. 11, 2014.
The Wolverines shot 53.4% from the field (31-for-58) and 47.8% from 3-point range (11-for-23). Similarly, the Buckeyes shot 53.3% from the floor (32-for-60) and 50% from beyond the arc (11-for-22).
Yet, Dickinson’s 7-foot-1 size and reach was a deciding factor down the stretch. He scored 10 points over the final seven minutes against Ohio State, whose tallest available big men were 6-8.
"That's what we expect him to do,” said senior guard Eli Brooks, who finished with 17 points. “He's proven it all year. We try to get it in his spots, so we can take advantage of him down low because we feel like he can't be stopped down there. He's proven himself that he can score against anybody and he did that.”
After the Buckeyes took a one-point lead on a three-point play from E.J. Liddell, senior guard Chaundee Brown scored on a putback and Dickinson corralled his own miss, drew a foul and made two free throws to put the Wolverines back on top, 73-69, with 4:52 remaining.
Ohio State (18-5, 12-5) pulled within one twice and Dickinson answered both times. He threw down a thunderous dunk and knocked down two more free throws before senior guard Isaiah Livers turned a steal into a three-point play and an 80-74 lead at the 2:33 mark.
Dickinson wasn’t done. He scored on an offensive putback and blocked a shot on the ensuing possession, leading to a Brooks layup and an 84-76 advantage with 53 seconds remaining.
Michigan extended its lead to nine with free throws before Ohio State used a last-gasp surge and a Duane Washington Jr. 3-pointer to make it a one-possession game, 90-87, with three seconds left. But it was too little too late as Brooks dashed the late-game drama with two more free throws and sealed Michigan’s fifth straight win.
"They're No. 4 in the country for a reason. We're No. 3 in the country for a reason, too,” Dickinson said. “This game lived up to the hype...but I think we executed down the stretch late in the second half.”
Dickinson received plenty of help. Brown finished with 15 points, Livers scored 12 and grad transfer guard Mike Smith chipped in 11 points for Michigan, which snapped Ohio State’s seven-game win streak.
Washington (Grand Rapids) scored a career-high 30, Liddell had 23 points and 10 rebounds and CJ Walker added 15 points for Ohio State.
"It was a hard-fought game,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “Both teams were really good offensively, really made shots.
“(Dickinson’s) length and size bothered us. …He’s a load inside. I thought we were able to make it difficult for him, but it just wasn't quite enough.”
The top-five matchup was as good as advertised from the start, with the offenses executing at a high level throughout the first half. The Buckeyes relied on Washington, Liddell and second-chance opportunities, while the Wolverines caught fire from 3-point range.
Ohio State rode the shot-making and hot hand of Washington, who needed less than nine minutes to reach double figures in scoring. He hit a deep contested 3-pointer to give the Buckeyes a 19-14 lead with 11:18 left in the first half.
The Wolverines swung the ball to generate good looks and deliver a counterpunch with an 11-2 run to take their first lead. Brown buried a pair of 3-pointers — one off a cross-court pass from Dickinson — before Dickinson threw down a dunk and Smith splashed a deep ball to make it 25-21 at the 7:51 mark.
After Smith drained another long-range shot to give the Wolverines a 34-28 lead, Ohio State responded with a haymaker in the form of a 15-6 flurry. The Wolverines answered with a 3-pointer from sophomore wing Franz Wagner before the half fittingly ended with Brooks beating the buzzer with a driving layup for a 45-43 edge at the break.
“I remember one of refs looking at me and he was like, 'This is a great game,'” Brooks said. “And I was like, 'You're not wrong there.' But when people are scoring and the ball is going in, it's a fun way to play. It’s not how we want to play every game, but it was pretty cool to see talented people score and have that level of competition.”
That didn’t change after halftime as Michigan and Ohio State traded blows and the lead eight times over the first seven minutes in the second half. The Wolverines pulled ahead by four twice, the last on a Dickinson jumper as the big man started to get going.
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The Buckeyes used a 10-2 spurt to pull ahead, 65-61, at the 10:00 mark. Michigan didn’t flinch and responded with a string of six straight points to go back on top. From there, Dickinson overpowered Ohio State and helped Michigan strengthen its grip on the top spot in the Big Ten standings.
“We're going to enjoy the bus ride home. I've been on the other side before when you've lost a game and you got the bus ride back home. It's not a good feeling,” Howard said. “We know that we have a tough schedule ahead and we're going to look at it one game at a time. But for right now, we're going to enjoy this victory.”