INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Duane Washington Jr. scored 24 points and E.J. Liddell added 18 and No. 9 Ohio State fended off a frantic finish from No. 4 Michigan for a 68-67 victory Saturday and a chance to play for the Big Ten Tournament title.
The Buckeyes (21-8) will play their fourth game in four days against either No. 3 Illinois or No. 5 Iowa on Sunday. Ohio State has won four tourney crowns, its most recent coming in 2013.
Michigan (20-4) was led by Hunter Dickinson with 21 points and eight rebounds and managed to cut a 13-point deficit to one in the final 4 1/2 minutes. But after a third consecutive Buckeyes turnover in the final 90 seconds, Mike Smith’s long jumper with 2 seconds left bounced off the back of the rim and time expired in the scramble for the loose ball.
The Wolverines, the league’s regular-season champs, had reached each of the past three championship games before last year’s tourney was canceled because of COVID-19.
Both teams played short-handed.
Michigan announced before the game that guard-forward Isaiah Livers would be out indefinitely after being diagnosed with 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 after getting hit in the head with an inadvertent elbow against Purdue, sat out for the Buckeyes.
And for the third time in three days, the Buckeyes nearly blew another double-digit lead. Minnesota rallied from a 13-point deficit to make it a one-point game on Thursday and the Buckeyes blew an 18-point halftime lead Friday before beating Purdue in overtime.
On Saturday, it nearly happened again as Michigan took advantage of a missed free throw and three straight turnovers to score the final seven points.
Like most Ohio State-Michigan games, this one was physical and close.
The Buckeyes started the game going 6 of 23 from the field, but only trailed 27-26 at the half. They retook the lead on Washington’s 3-pointer to open the second half and finally turned the game with a quick flurry late in the second half.
Washington made two 3s during the crucial 14-2 spurt while Liddell and C.J. Walker each completed three-point plays to give Ohio State a 56-45 lead with 8:17 to go. The Wolverines spent the rest of the game playing catch-up.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes still haven’t found that finishing touch. But they’ve won three straight at Indianapolis and, at times, have looked like a legitimate contender. While they could be more consistent, expect to see Ohio State on the No. 2 seed line next week.
Michigan: Losing Livers for any time hurts. But the Wolverines demonstrated their depth Saturday and came up just short against a top-10 foe without one of their best scorers.
The game was pretty rugged. Dickinson, the league’s freshman of the year, came out with an injured right elbow less than two minutes into the game and returned five minutes later wearing an extra pad. Ohio State had trouble, too. Forward E.J. Liddell hurt his funny bone in the second half when he blocked Brandon Johns Jr.’s shot against the backboard. Johns also got hurt on the play and was rubbing his neck. Both returned later. Buckeyes forward Seth Towns also used a bike to stay loose after appearing to hurt his thigh and Justice Sueing had an ice pack around the front of his waist.
Ohio State: Take on either No. 3 Illinois or No. 5 Iowa in Sunday’s title game.
Michigan: Will wait to find out their opponent on Sunday’s NCAA Tournament selection show.