INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State guard Duane Washington Jr. just wanted a second chance at his home-state team.
On Saturday, the former Michigan prep star made sure it counted.
Washington had 24 points, six rebounds and four assists, helping the No. 9 Buckeyes fend off the fourth-ranked Wolverines for a 68-67 victory and a trip to the Big Ten Tournament title game.
“This rivalry means a lot to a lot of our guys, a lot of our Ohio guys,” Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann said. “Even guys like E.J. (Liddell), who has seen what it means to our fans. Duane feels that, he knows what this game means to our fans. It’s not football, we understand that. But Duane understands it.”
It sure wasn’t easy. For the third straight day, the Buckeyes nearly blew a double-digit lead in the second half.
Michigan (20-4) scored the final seven points and Mike Smith even had a chance to win it with a long jumper with 2 seconds left. Instead, it bounced off the back of the rim and time expired in a scramble for the ball.
The Buckeyes (21-8) advance to play No. 3 Illinois on Sunday, seeking their first title since 2013.
For Washington, it was pure joy. After scoring a career-high 30 points in a 92-87 loss to Michigan on Feb. 21, Washington immediately started talking about a rematch. And he didn’t disappoint, making 5 of 10 3-pointers.
“Today we needed him big, huge and he produced,” Liddell said after scoring 18 points. “That’s why he’s a big-time player.”
Michigan played without starter Isaiah Livers, who is out indefinitely because of a stress fracture in his right foot. Livers was scoreless in 15 minutes in Friday’s victory over Maryland.
Forward Kyle Young, who missed most of the second half Friday for Ohio State after getting hit in the head with an inadvertent elbow, also sat out.
Like most games in this bitter rivalry, it was physical and close.
Ohio State started pulling away when Washington made two 3s and Liddell and C.J. Walker each completed three-point plays during a 14-2 run that made it 56-45 with 8:17 left. The Buckeyes still led 63-50 with 4:19 to go.
Then the Wolverines, behind 21 points and eight rebounds from Hunter Dickinson, charged back. They scored four straight to make it 67-60 and took advantage of one missed free throw, a missed dunk and back-to-back turnovers to make it 68-67. When the Buckeyes turned it over again with 28.7 seconds left, the Wolverines had a shot. But Smith’s jumper was long.
“We got exactly what we wanted – Mike for a ball screen, a switch and we got a good look at it,” coach Juwan Howard said. “I’d take that shot every time.”
Ohio State: The Buckeyes still haven’t found that finishing touch though they’ve won three straight at Indianapolis and, at times, have looked like a real contender. Expect to see Ohio State as a No. 2 seed next week.
Michigan: Losing Livers for any time hurts. But the Wolverines showed their depth Saturday and came up just short against a top-10 foe. They’re still likely a No. 1 seed.
Ohio State: Washington had six rebounds and four assists while Liddell had five rebounds and three assists. … The Buckeyes are 4-0 at Lucas Oil Stadium and won their 100th game over Michigan.
Michigan: Eli Brooks had 12 points and four rebounds. Smith had 10 points and four assists. … Michigan shot 35.1% from the field, its second-worst single-game shooting this season. … The Wolverines appeared in three straight title games before last year’s was cancelled because of COVID-19.
Dickinson, the league’s freshman of the year, left less than two minutes into the game with an injured right elbow and returned with some extra padding. Later, Liddell hurt his funny bone while blocking a shot from Brandon Johns Jr. Johns also was rubbing his neck after the play. Both later returned.
HE SAID IT
“It’s good to know we saw the injury before it could become worse than it really is at this point,” Howard said of Livers. “At the same time, Isaiah is very disappointed he’s not out there playing. But with his voice and his experience he is helping.”
Ohio State: Takes on either No. 3 Illinois in Sunday’s title game.
Michigan: Will wait to find out its opponent on Sunday’s NCAA Tournament selection show.