The first ever Top 5 basketball battle between No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Ohio State more than lived up to the hype on Sunday afternoon in Columbus, Ohio.
The game featured an incredible 17 lead changes and 11 ties, as the Wolverines and Buckeyes went to war. Michigan delivered the final blow with three seconds remaining when Eli Brooks hit a pair of free throws, and the Wolverines headed back to Ann Arbor with a well-earned 92-87 victory.
The intensity was high in the early back-and-forth between the opposing ball clubs, as Ohio State grabbed a 19-14 lead through the first nine minutes of play. Michigan responded with back-to-back triples from Chaundee Brown to take a 20-19 edge with 9 minutes to play in the half.
That was the story of the entire first half: Punch. Counter-punch. Punch. Counter-punch. A battle of two titans of college basketball, going toe-to-toe, trading blows and not flinching.
The Wolverines shot 57% from the floor, and a blistering 10-of-13 from three-point range in the opening frame. The Buckeyes shot 53% overall, and were 6-of-13 from the three-point arc.
When the dust settled, Michigan took a 45-43 lead into halftime.
The Wolverines held a 59-55 lead with 13:30 left in the game, but Ohio State went on a 10-2 run to retake the lead. Michigan once again responded, battling back to take a 77-74 lead.
The play of the game may have come next, as Ohio State’s Justice Sueing attempted an ill-advised behind the back pass that turned into a live-ball turnover scooped up by Isaiah Livers. The senior raced up the floor, scored the basket and was fouled by Sueing. Livers converted the free throw to put Michigan up by 3.
The Wolverines were in control from there, and held on despite great shooting from Ohio State’s Duane Washington Jr. down the stretch.
1. Brown, Smith impact the rivalry
Transfers Chaundee Brown and Mike Smith have been invaluable assets to Michigan throughout this season, and both took advantage of their chance to make an impact in one of the best rivalries in sports. Brown played huge minutes off the bench for the Wolverines, hitting his first three shot attempts – all triples – on his way to 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Brown also played excellent defense, and grabbed 3 rebounds, two of which came on the offensive end on one possession late in the game that led to his own putback layup and a lead for the Wolverines. Smith, meanwhile, scored 8 of his 11 points in the first half, and then spread the ball around in the second half on his way to 7 assists. His composure in the face of constant ball-pressure from the Buckeyes was vital as well. Grabbing these two guys from the transfer portal was crucial for Juwan Howard and Co., and Michigan would not be where it is today without their efforts.
2. Hunter Dickinson is a grown man
The freshman center has done everything that could be expected and more for the Wolverines this season. Dickinson has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week six times already, and may be on his way to a seventh after his play against the Buckeyes. The 7-footer had a size advantage over Ohio State posts EJ Liddell and Kyle Young, and he took advantage of those matchups on the offensive end. Dickinson finished with 22 points to lead the Wolverines, and rounded out his stat line with 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. A sensational performance from the freshman once again.
3. Eli Brooks breaks out of his funk
Eli Brooks had struggled with his shooting in the two games prior to this matchup, but the senior found his stroke just in time. Brooks hit his first two three-point attempts and never looked back, scoring 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting (3-of-4 from deep). The production from the senior is particularly impressive considering the defensive assignment he drew – being tasked with defending Ohio State’s Duane Washington Jr. The Buckeye junior is about the only player this season that’s gotten the better of Brooks – Washington Jr. finished with 30 points – but Brooks’ scoring helped offset his struggled on the defensive end.
4. Livers, Wagner solid as usual
We’ve mentioned it before: What makes Michigan so good is the number of guys capable of leading this team to a win. Against Wisconsin, it was Isaiah Livers. Against Rutgers, it was Franz Wagner. Today, it was Dickinson, Brown and Brooks. The Wolverines have weapons all over the floor. Livers was aggressive early, but struggled to knock down shots. He changed his approach, got his teammates involved, and finished with 12 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Meanwhile, Wagner bounced back from a couple of early turnovers to contribute 9 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. The sophomore dialed back his aggressiveness as well after a suspect charge call in the first half, and only attempted four shots in the game. The “team first” culture that Howard has established is palpable. Livers and Wagner – arguably Michigan’s two best players – struggled early, and responded by trusting their teammates to pick them up. That takes character, and that takes maturity – both of those guys have it.
5. Michigan proves itself a No. 1 seed
Entering this contest, Michigan and Ohio State were both projected as No. 1 seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Neither team did anything to suggest they don’t belong with the likes of Gonzaga and Baylor on that 1-seed line. This truly was a heavyweight fight between two of the best teams in all of college basketball. This was a marquee road win for the Wolverines, and further strengthens their resume. In addition, Michigan likely eliminated the Buckeyes hopes for a Big Ten title, and further cemented itself as the favorite for the league crown. Illinois is likely the only other team in contention for the Big Ten championship, and the No. 5 Illini will get their shot at the Wolverines on March 2.