Success has been hard to come by lately for Ohio State and even harder for Michigan, making for a critical game when they match up Monday afternoon in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The Buckeyes (12-4, 2-3 Big Ten) have lost two straight games, and coach Chris Holtmann doesn’t want to see visions of last season’s collapse — when they lost 14 of 15 from Jan. 5 to Feb. 23 — creep into his players’ minds.
“I have a high-level belief in this team,” Holtmann said. “I really do. I’m being completely honest. I have a high-level belief in this team and what we’re doing and the fact that we’re going to grow. Last year is last year. This is a different group. The leadership is different.”
The Wolverines (6-10, 1-4) are in an even more dire situation. They have lost five in a row for the longest losing streak in Juwan Howard’s five years as coach. Michigan is 3-10 in the past 13 games.
“We are scared. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, I don’t know what it is,” Wolverines co-captain Olivier Nkamhoua said. “Maybe we’ve lost so many games that guys now are playing not to lose instead of playing to win. We need to keep our poise and stay the course.”
The Wolverines’ most recent setback — 64-57 at Maryland on Thursday after leading by 12 at the half — came without leading scorer Dug McDaniel (17.8 points per game). He served the first of a six-game road suspension for what the school said was academic reasons. He is expected to be available Monday.
The Buckeyes will try to exploit Michigan’s vulnerability, having experienced a late-game meltdown themselves in a 71-60 home loss to No. 15 Wisconsin on Wednesday. Ohio State was outscored 19-4 in the final five-plus minutes.
Fifth-year forward Jamison Battle said it’s time for him and other veterans to step up.
“I’ll take the responsibility to where I’ve got to be a leader in that regard and in the end, we have plenty of experience,” he said. “We just have to trust it.”
–Field Level Media
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