Sorry for the very late posting of this article, I was traveling for a conference yesterday and did not a get chance to write this until now.
After never losing to Michigan during the first 8 years of his stay at Ohio State, Jim Foster has seen the rivalry take a turn for the worse. The Wolverines swept the Buckeyes last season, helping to end OSU’s streak of Big Ten titles. Yesterday the Buckeyes headed to Ann Arbor looking for some revenge, however things did not go as planned.
The first half was a great back and forth battle with several lead changes and even more ties. Ohio State lead 26-25 with just over three minutes remaining in the half but Michigan went on a 7 to 0 run over the next three minutes and the two teams went into the locker room with the Wolverines leading 32-27. Michigan carried that momentum into the second half by opening with an 11 to 3 run that gave them a 43-30 lead with just under fourteen minutes remaining in the game. The Buckeyes managed to end the run but Michigan kept building its lead, eventually being up 56-37 with nine minutes left on the clock. Ohio State looked like they were about to get run out of the building but suddenly managed to step up their defense as the scored 9 straight to cut the lead to 56-46 and make it a game again. The Wolverines quickly stretched the lead back to 14 but the Buckeyes answered and cut the lead to 62-57 with three minutes remaining in the game. Suddenly Ohio State seemed to have the momentum and looked like they were going to pull off another one of their comeback victories. Unfortunately things did not work out that way as Ohio State’s offense turned cold again and Michigan managed to salt the game away with free throws, winning 73-62 and handing OSU its first loss of the season.
The Michigan defense focused on shutting down Samantha Prahalis and Tayler Hill and while they did not shut them down, they limited them to 17 and 15 points, respectively. More importantly, the two star guards were held to just 3 of 15 shooting from beyond the arc. As a team Ohio State shot just 36% from the floor while Michigan hit 54%. The Buckeyes also committed 15 turnovers which were turned into 21 points for the Wolverines, most occurring during the run early in the second half which gave Michigan too large of a lead and too much momentum to overcome.
Despite the outcome of the game, and the way most of it went, Foster still continued to use the bench, though not as much as he had previously. Nine Buckeyes saw the floor and all of them played at least 15 minutes and managed to score. Martina Ellerbe looked really good coming of the bench, scoring 9 points on a perfect 4 of 4 shooting night which included one three-pointer. Ellerbe has been getting more playing time lately and adds a bit of range at the forward spot which could prove very valuable if she works to get three-point shots more often.
Credit needs to go to Michigan and their defense for forcing OSU turnovers and turning them into points, but Ohio State may very well have been a victim of its own success in this one. Several times this season the Buckeyes had rallied from deficits, including one double-digit one, and I wonder if the team, especially some of the younger players, had not developed a bit of an expectation that they would come back and win no matter how they played. With their late run to cut a 19 point lead to only 5, the Buckeyes showed that when they play their game, they can beat Michigan, unfortunately it took them too long to play their game. The youth of this team may have also played a role in this one as the young frontcourt may have gotten used to Prahalis and Hill carrying them to victory, and become a bit complacent in their play. Foster alluded to this in his postgame comments, saying “Maybe what’s taken place is that our post players have gotten very comfortable letting our guards dictate the tempo of the game not thinking they’re responsible. But they’re responsible.”
Losing always hurts and losing to Michigan for the third straight time only makes it worse, still, this team has exceeded all expectations so far and we all knew that they were not going to make it through the season unscathed. The important thing now is how the team handles the loss. Last year the Buckeyes fell apart mentally for two months following their first loss, costing them a Big Ten regular season title. This years team needs to avoid that fate, instead they need to learn from this loss. Michigan showed the weaknesses in this team’s play but they also showed that Ohio State can beat anybody if the focus, come out with energy, and play their game. Hopefully this loss will remind the team that they cannot take winning or making a comeback for granted, that they need to come out ready to play from the start.
This loss hurts, and it should, but if the team can learn from it, then it may prove to ultimately be a positive thing. We will find out how much the team learned as they host Northwestern, another team that surprised them last year, on Thursday at 7:00pm.