Caris LeVert finished with 17 points and eight boards, but it was his only offensive rebound of the night that was the single biggest play of the first Big Ten semifinal.
With 17 seconds left, Nik Stauskas missed a three with the Wolverines up 71-69, but LeVert came soaring in and grabbed the rebound from the outstretch hands of Aaron Craft. Spike Albrecht would hit a free throw and Craft would lose control of the ball as he tried to shoot a game-tying three to close the game as the Big Ten regular season champions advanced to the Big Ten tournament title game with a 72-69 win.
The win keeps Michigan in contention for the fourth and final No. 1 seed, and ironically enough, if Wisconsin can knock off Michigan State tonight, the Big Ten title may be played with a spot as a top seed on the line.
The Wolverines came out on fire on Saturday, hitting 8-for-13 from three in the first half, leading by as much as 16 before intermission, and then knocking down a triple on their first three possessions of the second half. But just like they did against Illinois on Friday, John Beilein’s club was unable to put Ohio State away. The Illini erased a big deficit in the second half and would have beaten the Wolverines if Tracy Abrams had made an open five-footer at the buzzer. The Buckeyes twice stormed back from double-digit deficits on Saturday.
The concerning part?
Neither Illinois or Ohio State are considered to be good offensive teams, and the Wolverines certainly aren’t considered a good defensive team. Is that just the result of March feistiness, or is this a trend that we need to keep an eye on moving forward?
Conversely, the last couple of days, Ohio State has done well to make themselves appear to be more of a contender than they looked for much of the season.
Michigan has their defensive issues, but scrapping back against them — twice! — when they were shooting as well as they were is impressive, especially when you consider that they expended a lot of energy digging themselves out of an 18-point hole against Nebraska on Friday night.
We all know how good the Buckeyes can be defensively, but if they can find a way to tap into the offensive firepower they showed off in the last two games more consistently, they’ll make some noise in the next three weeks.