INDIANAPOLIS — With 6.2 seconds left and the possibility existing that Ohio State would have a chance to force overtime with a three-pointer, one of Michigan coach John Beilein’s assistants suggested he employ a three-point zone defense should Spike Albrecht miss his second free throw.
“Not in a million years,” Beilein responded. “I’m not going to let that happen again.”
Beilein was thinking of Evan Turner beating Michigan with a last-second, 37-foot shot in a quarterfinal of the 2010 Big Ten tournament.
But one day after an 18-point comeback to beat Nebraska, the Buckeyes couldn’t work another miracle yesterday in a 72-69 loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
After Albrecht missed his second free throw, Aaron Craft rushed the ball upcourt to just short of the top of the key before pulling up for a three-pointer in front of the Wolverines’ Glenn Robinson III. But the ball slipped from Craft’s grasp, Michigan’s Nik Stauskas came up with it after a scramble, and time ran out on the Buckeyes, who had rallied from deficits of 16 points in the first half and 12 in the second.
“It slipped out of my hands,” was all Craft had to say about the final play.
LaQuinton Ross scored 19 points and Shannon Scott matched his career high with 18 points and also had six assists and three steals to lead Ohio State (25-9), which was trying to reach the tournament championship game for the sixth consecutive year.
Instead, top-seeded Michigan (25-7) will play for the title today for the first time since winning the first tournament in 1998. Michigan State (25-8) will be the opponent after defeating Wisconsin 83-75 in the other semifinal.
Stauskas scored 18 points to lead Michigan, and Pickerington Central graduate Caris LeVert had 17 points and eight rebounds, none bigger than after Stauskas missed from the top of the key with 13 seconds left. Nearly seven more seconds ran off the clock before the Buckeyes fouled Albrecht.
Matta said he chose not to foul earlier in Michigan’s possession, which began with 44.5 seconds left and the Wolverines ahead 71-69.
“I told our guys we’ve got the No. 1 defense in the country, let’s don’t foul. Let’s get the stop, let’s get the rebound,” Matta said. “We got the stop, we just didn’t get the rebound.”
LeVert got by Sam Thompson in what he said was the only time all day he went to the offensive board because he usually is responsible for getting back on defense. Thompson took the blame for being out of position to block him out.
“Stauskas was isolated with Lenzelle (Smith Jr.), and we didn’t want to leave Lenzelle out there on an island by himself, so I tried to get up in the gap and show some help,” Thompson said. “LeVert made a great play, but in a game of that magnitude, I have to make that play.”
After shooting their best percentage in a game (48.2) in more than a month and rallying from a 56-44 deficit to a 68-65 lead with 4:12 left, the Buckeyes missed their last five field-goal attempts and three of four free throws before Craft turned it over on the final play. They had missed only one free throw in the game to that point.
After sitting out nearly nine minutes with four fouls, Craft missed two free throws 28 seconds after returning to the game that could have given Ohio State a one-point lead with 2:27 to play. He said going in cold was no excuse.
“You’ve got to step up for your team in that moment, and I didn’t,” he said. “We knew (missed free throws were) going to come back and haunt us sometime. It cost us today.”