With criticism weighing heavily on the minds of the Ohio State men’s basketball team, the Buckeyes got out to a fast start against Minnesota, and fought off a late comeback to pick up a 78-72 victory over the Golden Gophers (15-6, 3-5 Big Ten) for their third conference win.
After Minnesota got out to an early lead, OSU went on a 9-0 run to grab a 13-6 lead. The Buckeyes’ biggest run was a 14-2 mark over four minutes and 34 seconds that was finished by a senior forward Marc Loving 3 to give OSU an 18-8 advantage with under 14 minutes to play.
The Buckeyes (13-8, 3-5 Big Ten) shot 52 percent from the field in the first half, in addition to a perfect 9 for 9 from the charity stripe. Minnesota struggled early to find its rhythm, but eventually finished 41 percent shooting from the field.
Redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson was on fire out of the gate, as the big man scored 10 of OSU’s first 15 points. He ended his career night with 19 points and 10 rebounds for his seventh double-double this year.
“Our game plan was to get the ball in, but I only had one word in my mindset, and that was win,” Thompson said. “I just wanted to win. That’s all I was thinking about. My teammates did a good job of finding me and screening. They did a hell of a job screening.”
His hot night, paired with sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle’s big night from outside, the Buckeyes kept Minnesota at bay. Lyle went 3 of 5 from behind the arc, and finished with 11 points overall.
Redshirt junior guard Kam Williams, who suffered a thigh bruise against Northwestern, left the court limping in the first. After a short stint on the stationary bike, he finished his night with seven points and four rebounds.
“He got hit on the one spot of his body he shouldn’t get hit on,” OSU coach Thad Matta said.
Minnesota came roaring back just before halftime, notching a 12-0 run to cut the OSU lead to just five. Sophomore forward Jordan Murphy tipped in a missed shot with less than a second on the shot clock to cap off the run.
Minnesota freshman guard Amir Coffey was kept in check for most of the night, including when OSU freshman forward Andre Wesson was tasked with guarding the speedy guard. Wesson finished with nine points, six of which came from the free throw line.
The combination of junior guard Nate Mason and redshirt junior center Reggie Lynch gave the Gophers 31 points. The duo also picked up 13 rebounds.
After success with ball movement in the first half, the Buckeyes had just one assist in the first 10 minutes of the second, as senior Marc Loving drove inside and launched a pass to the left side to a wide-open Wesson for 3, giving OSU an eight-point lead with less than 10 minutes in the half.
“We weren’t guarding,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “We’re a pretty good defensive team. We weren’t guarding. So I think it carried over to both sides and we were getting frustrated when we started guarding. We got out on the break and good things happened.”
A Lyle turnover led to a 3-pointer from Coffey to cut the deficit to just three for Minnesota, and another 3 by Mason brought the Gophers within two. After a timeout following a Minnesota foul, the teams went back-and-forth, as Loving and Minnesota guard Akeem Springs traded 3-pointers with less than a minute left.
Following a Minnesota turnover, Lyle missed two free throws providing a window of opportunity for the Gophers. However, a missed shot followed by two made free throws by the Buckeyes and a resounding Trevor Thompson block put the game away.
It was Minnesota’s fourth-straight conference loss. OSU is set to travel to Iowa on Saturday at 8 p.m. to square off against the Hawkeyes. For Matta, his team might have won, but the reconstructing process to get where OSU wants to be is far from over.
Matta compared the process as children playing with blocks.
“Remember when they stack their blocks up?” Mattas asked the media. “With this team, we just knocked them all down. And tomorrow, we got to start stacking them back up again to get ready to go to Iowa.”