February 17, 2008

Second half sinks Bucks

ANN ARBOR - With February halfway in the books the Buckeyes knew that they would need every win possible if they were going to return to the NCAA tournament. For the first half of the game Ohio State shot a blistering 68-percent against Michigan but despite taking ten more shots than the Wolverines the Buckeyes fell into a second half hole and never reemerged en route to a 80-70 to hand the Bucks (17-9, 8-5) the first loss to Michigan (8-17, 4-9) in the Thad Matta era.

Michigan got most of its scoring from Manny Harris (27 points, 7 rebounds) and DeShawn Sims (22 points, 7 rebounds) and made the most out of the opportunities that Ohio State gave them on an afternoon where the Bucks coughed up the ball for 14 turnovers. Kosta Koufos led Ohio State with 18 points and 11 rebounds as four Buckeyes scored in double figures but when it came down to it the Bucks couldn't turn the corner and pull back into the game.

"We told our guys that this is the best seven win team I have ever seen," Matta said. "I think it is clicking and they had great confidence today. I thought they did a good job of making big plays."

Ohio State senior guard Jamar Butler had an uncharacteristic game turning the ball over six times (season high) and despite scoring 14 points had a much shorter and direct answer as to what happened on Sunday afternoon.

"They were tougher than us," Butler said.

Butler played his ninth game of 40 minutes on Sunday and the question has to be asked if fatigue might be playing a role in his increased turnovers.

"I don't think so because I think we are doing a great job of getting rest throughout the course of the week leading into games," Matta said. "I don't know why (he is up in turnovers) I honestly don't. He has got to play well and he is capable of it. I thought he did some very good things tonight and obviously a couple of passes here and there (were bad). We just have got to get him back on track."

Butler has been known as a man of few words and promises it has nothing to do with fatigue.

"I am alright I just made some bad decisions I guess," Butler said.

For the first twenty minutes of the game things were clicking offensively for Ohio State and the Buckeyes opened up a five point lead at 24-19 after working the ball down to Koufos in the paint. Despite going 17-25 in the first half the of the game Ohio State went to the locker room tied at 38 because the Wolverines found spotty success with the three-pointer. The only number than meant anything to Ohio State was the score.

"I don't even want to think about it," Butler said. "I don't know what our percentage was because I was just playing the game."

Koufos had a solid first half going 6-7 from the field in the first 20 minutes but then the second 20 were a different story in the second half going 3-12. Did Michigan do anything different or was it just a matter of the Bucks not getting the breaks?

"The ball just wasn't going through the hoop," Koufos said. "I have to get mentally tough for the second half. We had to finish the ball game, for 40 minutes we had to play hard. That's what this week in practice is for and we just have to come at it hard."

There were some pockets of Scarlet and Gray in Crisler Arena and they made their presence known especially at half time when new Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez was introduced and had a halftime ceremony with his assistant coaches. The Ohio State faithful chanted O-H-I-O and held up a banner showing the number 1,548 (the number of days since Michigan last beat Ohio State in football) and were greeted by a thunderous chorus of boo from the UM faithful. Rich Rod snapped back at the OSU fans with a, "Hope you enjoy your seats," with the majority of the fans in the nose bleeds. It would be the Ohio State basketball team with the bloody nose in the second half.

Ohio State took their final lead at 44-43 after a David Lighty (4 points) drive to the hoop and from that point on the Bucks would be looking at the wrong of the scoreboard.

The Wolverines would extend the lead to ten points off of a Kelvin Grady (8 points) three pointer. The Buckeyes had a couple of runs in them and would get it down to two at 60-58 off of a Othello Hunter (6 points) drive. The Buckeyes managed to keep it within one or two possessions for the next 5:30 of the game before being forced to foul down the stretch and the Wolverines didn't give up the easy points converting on 11 of 14 free throws down the stretch.

Now attention turns down to the final handful of games and the dreaded bubble talk. Butler was in no mood to talk about the post-season after the game.

"I am not even thinking about that right now," Butler said. "We just lost a game and it is not even on my mind right now. I really don't care."

Matta tried to side step the question after the game as well.

"We have talked about it and it is kind of like I said the other day of is this a must win game?" Matta said. "No, it is a must play well game. That was my mindset last year. We come up here and have already clinched the Big Ten title and what are you playing for. You are playing to play well and that has sort of been my demeanor as a coach of just wanting these guys to play better. If that happens then things will take care of themselves."

The loss will be a tough one to swallow and with a week until the next game (vs. Wisconsin) the Buckeyes will have a lot to work on. Is the break something to look forward to?

"Not at all," Butler said. "After you lose a game you want to get back on the court as quick as possible."

Matta might be tempted to give the team a little bit of a rest but knows that there is a fine line that has to be maintained.

"A little bit of both but you have to be a little bit careful on the tail end because I think we play Sunday/Tuesday," Matta said. "We are going to keep hammering home. I think guys are making strides but we just need to get everybody playing well on every possession of every game."

Things better be hammered home soon with five games to go in the regular season with the Badgers invading Value City Arena Sunday at 4:00 p.m. (EST).

Stat leaders
Ohio State - Koufos 18, Turner 16, Butler 14, Diebler 10
Michigan - Harris 27, Sims 22, Grady 8

Ohio State - Turner 11, Koufos 11, Diebler 5
Michigan - Sims 7, Harris 7, Udoh 5

Ohio State - Turner 6, Butler 6
Michigan - Merritt 4, Harris 3, Coleman 3

Ohio State - Koufos 2, Turner 1
Michigan - Udoh 6

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