For 20 minutes, it looked like Minnesota was the only team that wanted to be on the court in a critical Big Ten Conference game.
Unfortunately for the Golden Gophers, they still had 20 minutes to play against Ohio State Saturday at the Schottenstein Center.
Led by junior forward Sam Thompson, who scored 16 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, the Buckeyes surged out of their first half funk with a 25-5 run to beat Minnesota (17-11, 6-9, seventh in the Big Ten), 64-46.
“In essence I just said, ‘There’s nothing I can draw up on the board. There’s nothing we can really talk about until we play better basketball,’” OSU coach Thad Matta said after the game about his halftime speech. “For whatever reason … we didn’t have what we needed. We weren’t attacking the way we needed to attack.”
The Gophers led, 28-18, at halftime after a sluggish start by OSU (22-6, 9-6, fifth in the Big Ten). Minnesota scored the first seven points in the game, and the Buckeyes failed to score their first point until the 16:04 mark on a layup by junior forward LaQuinton Ross.
That started a 7-0 run by the Buckeyes, who never took the lead in the opening 20 minutes after shooting 6-22 from the field and committing eight turnovers.
“The first half was definitely the worst we’ve played (this season),” Thompson said after the win. “Coach Matta said that at halftime. Up to this point in the season, we hadn’t come out and just laid an egg, but we did that in the first half of the game. We came out in the second half, we played some of the best basketball.”
After Gopher junior guard DeAndre Mathieu scored the first points in the second half, the Buckeyes would finally come to life, taking the lead after a free throw by Ross with 14:24 left.
OSU never trailed again.
After the game, Ross said the reason the Buckeyes were able to get going “was a combination of everything.”
“Big plays spark this team, especially on the defensive end so any time we get the steal and you are getting out there you can see everybody in the crowd, they was up on their feet knowing that we was about to do something exciting,” Ross said. “I think our defense is what this team is based on and how we win.”
Thompson snagged an alley-oop from junior guard Shannon Scott at the 10:42 mark to give OSU a 45-35 lead, and the momentum for the Buckeyes continued as the Golden Gophers struggled to find their groove offensively.
Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino said the reason for his team’s collapse was basic: turnovers.
“Second half — very simple. I think we had nine turnovers,” Pitino said after the game. “And they made us pay on every single one of them.”
The lead swelled to as much as 21 after a jumper by Scott with 1:33 remaining, signaling the end of a complete turnaround by the Buckeyes, who held Minnesota to just 18 points in the second half.
Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. finished the game with 13 points while grabbing six rebounds, and Scott chipped in 10 of his own. Junior center Amir Williams was a force inside during the second half, and finished the game with seven points, four rebounds and four blocked shots while altering many others.
Junior guard Andre Hollins finished with 13 points in a losing effort for Minnesota.
Matta said the way that his team was able to respond in the final 20 minutes to avoid dropping its fourth game at home this season was because it played desperately in the second half — something that has to be done night in and night out in the Big Ten.
“I think just from the standpoint of quite honestly every game is like the biggest game of your life in this league,” Matta said. “Obviously the way we played in the first half, if you’re not ready to compete, if you’re not ready to fight, if you’re not ready to execute, you can get embarrassed.”
OSU is scheduled to head to Penn State (13-14, 4-10, tied for 11th in the Big Ten) Thursday. The Nittany Lions gave the Buckeyes arguably their most disappointing loss of the season Jan. 29, when they came to Columbus and won, 71-70, in overtime. Tipoff for Thursday’s game is set for 7 p.m.