COLUMBUS — Ohio State lived an entire lifetime in 40 minutes.
To start the game, the Buckeyes looked like a young group who couldn’t obtain a stop to save their lives and couldn’t match up with Michigan.
By the end of Monday’s game, they turned into a pass-deflecting, pace-controlling pest that used no style and all substance to score a 71-62 victory at Value City Arena.
In this year of transition — during which Ohio State has no outside expectations and less talent than almost everyone in the Big Ten — the Buckeyes have begun league play 2-0.
Ohio State trailed Michigan by 20 points in the first half, yet outscored the Wolverines 48-19 the rest of the game to rejuvenate what had been a lifeless crowd.
“We’ll try to make every game as exciting as possible around here,” first-year head coach Chris Holtmann said. “That’s one of the things Gene [Smith, the director of atheltics] said when he hired me: just create drama in every game, as much as possible.”
In Michigan’s first 23 possessions, it made eight layups and six 3-pointers — which is to say that the Wolverines did whatever they wanted. On the majority of its first-half touches, Michigan created a high-quality shot. Michigan passed and screened and shot with vigor, causing Holtmann to effectively take Ohio State’s pregame plan on defense and throw it out.
“We knew in the first half, if we would’ve kept playing like that, we would’ve gotten ran out of the gym, and you definitely don’t want that in front of your home fans,” OSU guard Kam Williams said.
With his team down 43-23 at one point and down 13 at halftime, the Buckeyes decided they would switch almost every ball screen and challenge Michigan at every turn. The move worked, as the Wolverines shot a woeful 5 of 29 (17 percent) from the floor after halftime.
Although Ohio State did not make a single 3 in the second half, the Buckeyes used their bothersome defense to take control of the game.
Ohio State played six games in 12 days, and finished the run by handing Wisconsin the worst loss in the history of its building and overcoming a 20-point hole against Michigan with effort more than anything else. In two surprising wins to start the Big Ten season, Holtmann said there was a lesson to be learned for a young Ohio State team.
“I think all of them have had moments where they’ve played really well and also stuff where we can look and say, ‘OK, this is how we need to improve in these particular areas,’” Holtmann said. “That’s been good because you just don’t know that [before the season]. That’s one of the benefits of going through a six-game stretch like this.”
Keita Bates-Diop had 18 points to lead all scorers, C.J. Jackson had 17, and Jae’Sean Tate scored 14. More meaningful to the Buckeyes, everyone who played contributed with at least one meaningful play.
The season is young and the road long, but Ohio State believes it taught itself something important with its 2-0 start to Big Ten play.
“If we play like we did in the second half all game, the game’s really not even that close, and Michigan’s a good team,” Bates-Diop said. “It’s hard to win at Wisconsin no matter what year it is. If we carry these things into the rest of nonconference and into the rest of the regular season Big Ten, I think the sky’s the limit for us.
“We can be really good.”
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