Ohio State overcame a 20-point first-half deficit to knock off rival Michigan with a 71-62 Big Ten home win on Monday night. Trailing 43-23 with a little over a minute left in the first half, the Buckeyes made a furious comeback thanks to a standout defensive effort that only allowed the Wolverines to score 19 points over the final 21-plus minutes of the game.
Here are three takeaways from this early-December Big Ten rivalry game.
1. Ohio State could be dangerous in a wide open Big Ten
Let’s get a few quick things out of the way. The Big Ten is very down this year. Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann is a really good coach. Knowing those two things, the Buckeyes (7-3, 2-0) are going to be a really intriguing team in a conference that doesn’t have many sure things outside of Michigan State, Minnesota and Purdue.
Northwestern is struggling. Maryland hasn’t proven themselves quite yet. Michigan keeps blowing second-half leads (more on that in a minute). Even though the Buckeyes are trotting out a short-handed roster with a ton of new players and a coach who was hired in June, Holtmann and his team are sitting 2-0 in the conference with a blowout win on the road at Wisconsin and an impressive comeback win over Michigan.
Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop (18 points) continues to look like an all-Big Ten threat with the way he’s played so far this season and Jae’Sean Tate (14 points) is a veteran Big Ten player. If others like junior C.J. Jackson (17 points) and freshman big man Kaleb Wesson (eight points, five rebounds) continue to play well then Ohio State is going to be a team that nobody wants to face later this season. The Buckeyes are already exceeding the early-season expectations of many and they have the upside to get better.
2. Does Michigan have a go-to scorer?
For the second consecutive game, Michigan got off to a hot start. It looked like the Wolverines were about to cruise to a 2-0 start in the Big Ten after an easy win over Indiana over the weekend. But second-half offensive woes were a huge issue for Michigan in this one as they only scored 19 points in the final 21-plus minutes of Monday’s game.
With Michigan also blowing a late second-half lead against LSU in the Maui Invitational, that makes two winnable games that the Wolverines have squandered early in the season.
After solid starts in the first half against Ohio State, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zavier Simpson (11 points each) both were relative non-factors in the second half as Michigan struggled without a go-to scorer. Moritz Wagner (14 points) led the Wolverine offense on Monday but he struggled to a 5-for-13 shooting night as he couldn’t consistently finish inside against a bigger player like Wesson.
Transfer wing Charles Matthews looked timid on the offensive end the last few games as he struggled to do anything of substance with the ball in his hands. Duncan Robinson was ice-cold against Ohio State. When the Buckeyes made defensive adjustments after Michigan’s hot start, the Wolverines couldn’t turn to a single individual offensive player to carry them through a tough stretch. The Wolverines are still a talented team with plenty of weapons, but who steps up when this team needs a boost? Michigan doesn’t have a go-to scorer right now and they could really use one.
3. Ohio State is capable of making big runs
The past two games, the Buckeyes have been able to win thanks to big runs in the second half. It’s true that Ohio State already had a double-digit lead over Wisconsin at halftime of its dominating win. But a 10-2 Buckeyes run to start the second half completely took the life out of the Kohl Center as Wisconsin suffered their worst home loss in that building.
More huge runs carried the Buckeyes past Michigan on Monday. A ridiculous 26-3 run between the first and second half brought Ohio State back in the game while a 15-2 run closed out the game in convincing fashion for the win.
Holtmann has not only shown an ability to make necessary in-game adjustments but his players are also responding with the kind of energy and attention to detail that could really help them throughout the season. The bizarre early-December Big Ten matchups aren’t a true indicator of how these teams will look for the rest of the season but the Buckeyes pack enough scoring punch and defensive intensity to be able to hang around in most games.