Wolverines' late rally falls shot short to Buckeyes in Big Ten semifinals
Indianapolis — Somehow, some way, Michigan had a shot.
The Wolverines were down 11 points with three minutes to go. They were in the midst of one of their worst shooting performances of the season. Sophomore wing Franz Wagner had already fouled out. Senior forward Isaiah Livers was sidelined with a foot injury.
Yet, top-seeded Michigan staged a furious rally and still had a chance to beat No. 5 Ohio State on the last possession.
The improbable comeback came up short as grad transfer guard Mike Smith’s jumper missed the mark and the Wolverines fell in a 68-67 heartbreaker on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“It hurts,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “It hurts when you lose. That's part of this game of basketball. At times it can make you excited. Then when you're on the other side, the loss column, it can sometimes bring you to your knees.”
With the shot clock off and 28 seconds left, Smith dribbled near midcourt before freshman center Hunter Dickinson came out to set a screen near the 3-point line with 10 seconds remaining.
Ohio State’s Justice Sueing and E.J. Liddell, both 6-foot-7 forwards, switched onto Dickinson and Smith, respectively, while the rest of the Wolverines were spread out on the perimeter. Against Liddell, Smith made his move with only a few seconds remaining and put up a step-back jumper. His shot bounced off the back of the rim and time expired in a scramble for the ball.
“We got exactly what we wanted — Mike for a ball screen, we got the switch and we got a good look at it,” Howard said.
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The Wolverines had a timeout left but Howard opted not to use it. Instead, he drew up the final play for Smith — who was 1-for-10 from the field at that point — after Ohio State called a timeout when Michigan cut the deficit to one with 47 seconds left.
“I did not want to call a timeout because then I'll let their defense get set up,” Howard said. “At times teams don't know what you're going to run when you have the ball in your hand in the last possession. We got the play, we got the action, got the shot. Unfortunately, we just missed it. I'll take that shot any day."
Dickinson had 21 points and eight rebounds, senior guard Eli Brooks scored 12 and Smith 10 for Michigan (20-4), which shot 35.1% from the field (20-for-57) but outscored Ohio State 21-8 at the free-throw line. Junior forward Brandon Johns Jr. replaced Livers in the starting lineup and finished with seven points and eight rebounds.
Duane Washington Jr., a Grand Rapids native, had 24 points and made five 3-pointers and Liddell added 18 points for Ohio State (21-8), which shot 12-for-22 from beyond the arc and was also down a starter in Kyle Young (concussion).
"Doggone it, did we make it interesting," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. "I told our sophomore (Liddell), who's had an unbelievable season, it was probably not his best three-and-a-half minutes, but it was one of his best defensive possessions there late on the switch out to challenge Mike Smith's shot. Credit to him for responding."
Despite Washington and Liddell combining for 32 points in the second half and the Buckeyes shooting 58.3% (14-for-24) after halftime, they nearly blew another double-digit lead down the stretch.
This rivalry rematch was close for much of the contest until Ohio State started pulling away with a 14-2 run that featured a heavy dose of Washington and Liddell. Washington buried two 3-pointers and Liddell had a three-point play to put Michigan in a 56-45 hole with 8:17 to play.
After leading by as much as 13, the Buckeyes still led 67-56 with 3:18 to go. But just when it looked like the Wolverines were done, they made a late charge behind Dickinson. They scored four straight and took advantage of a missed dunk by Liddell to cut it to seven.
Then after a free throw made it 68-60 with 1:55 remaining, Dickinson scored inside, stripped Liddell and scored again. After another Liddell turnover, Michigan swung the ball and found senior guard Chaundee Brown for a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game with 48 seconds left.
Ohio State’s collapse continued when CJ Walker stepped on the baseline and turned the ball over with 28 seconds left, giving Michigan the final shot that went to Smith.
“That's the play we went with and everybody was confident in it,” Dickinson said. “If we had an opportunity to go back, I would not be hesitant with letting Mike shoot that next one. I think we were all confident in Mike and I told him after the game I'd let him shoot that one again if he had the chance.”
When asked if he thought about giving the ball to Dickinson on the final play, Howard reiterated: "We got the play and we got the shot that we wanted."
But Michigan won't get a shot to take home the Big Ten tournament title. Instead, the Wolverines will be watching and waiting before learning about their NCAA Tournament draw on Sunday.
“What we dealt with today with Franz being in foul trouble, we didn't shoot the ball extremely well, we gave up 10 offensive rebounds, they made 12 3s and then only lose by one point? That shows a lot of resolve, character within this group,” Howard said. “We lost a tough battle. Now we've got to get ready for the NCAA Tournament.
"I think it's going to be great for us to experience what we've experienced, not look back and keep forging ahead.”