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Livers-less Michigan falls to Ohio State in Big Ten Tournament semifinal

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The Wolverines were bad offensively without one of their best players.

Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament - Ohio State v Michigan Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines were eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament on Saturday afternoon in a 68-67 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes. OSU will face the winner of Saturday’s game between Illinois and Iowa. The loss snaps a streak of three-straight Big Ten Tournaments where Michigan has appeared in the final.

Hunter Dickinson led the way for Michigan with 21 points and eight rebounds in 30 minutes. Eli Brooks was second in scoring with 12 points on the afternoon.

Juwan Howard opted to put Brandon Johns Jr. into the starting lineup for the indefinitely-injured Isaiah Livers with all other roles staying the same. Johns played well, but the impact of Livers is apparent even more so when he is not on the floor.

This was a classic Big Ten bar brawl throughout the afternoon. Neither team played particularly great offensively, but the Buckeyes rode hot three-point shooting to build its lead. A far bigger issue for Michigan was its own offensive performance, as it shot 35 percent from the field and was 6-for-19 from three.

Franz Wagner fouled out with over five minutes left in the game, which was the cherry on top of an effort that did not go right for the Wolverines. Things were looking bleak without Livers and Wagner while OSU was able to stretch its lead to 13 points with about four minutes to go.

Michigan continued to fight and OSU continued its patented streak of being unable to close out games. This allowed the Wolverines to claw their way back into it, as a 17-5 run set them up for a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer. Howard elected to let his team play for the final shot with over 20 seconds to go. Mike Smith’s three-point attempt did not go through and the Buckeyes held on to win.

This was not one of Howard’s best coaching days, as some lineup decisions seemed curious. He will also have to own the final possession, which may have benefitted from a quick reset. Smith got a good look and it did not go through. Sometimes, it happens that way.

There is a chain reaction that comes from having a senior leader and arguably the team’s best player off the floor. That is tough to do with less than 24 hours to prepare for a game.

There are a few ways to digest what took place on Saturday. One is to be discouraged about the team’s outlook without Livers. Those concerns are warranted. Given the wrong matchup, Michigan may be a team that could get bounced at any point past the first round. The other would be that against one of the top ten teams in the country and without two major pieces down the stretch, the Wolverines continued to fight and nearly found a way to win. How you choose to react to it is your priority, but a loss to the Buckeyes is a loss nonetheless.

The Wolverines will stay in Indianapolis and await their NCAA Tournament matchup. Those will be set on Sunday evening. The first round of the NCAAs will take place on Friday and Saturday this year, so Michigan will have an extra day of rest compared to more traditional years. It seems likely that the Wolverines will hang on to grab one of the four No. 1 seeds, so there is some solace to be taken in what this weekend was for them.