Minnesota arrived at Columbus with a 1-2 record in the Big Ten, and hoping to get back to .500 with a big win over the Buckeyes. They very nearly got their wish, but it simply wasn’t to be as the last ditch three pointer fell short, giving Ohio State the 67-64 victory. David Lighty was the player of the game with 19 points, while Sullinger and Minnesota’s Mbakwe picked up double doubles with 12 rebounds and 15 and 16 points respectively.
Both teams established their man to man defense to start the game. Minnesota’s did not put them in position to box-out Sullinger on the offensive glass, but did give them the opportunity double team in in the paint. OSU’s defense gave Minnesota lots of trouble early on, producing a steal on the first possession and forcing the Gophers to use the entirity of the shot clock before taking a prayer of a basket.
Early on, the Bucks took advantage of the Gopher defense by driving the lane down the left side. While that wasn’t the only look the Buckeyes had, it seemed to be the most consistently available. Minnesota’s big men seemed unable to adjust quickly to the Buckeye’s motion offense. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Minnesota’s big men didn’t have a strategy of their own. The Gophers were able to grab two quick fouls in the paint, one each on Sullinger and Lauderdale, which was clearly designed to try to take away OSU’s inside presence early.
Minnesota was able to hang around with the Buckeyes with relative ease. That was partly due to a couple cheap fouls by the Buckeyes in the paint, and partly due to OSU’s offense bogging down a little towards the middle of the half. The sluggishness allowed Minnesota to slowly crawl their way back in to the game, especially as they transferred their confidence on defense into points on offense.
Part of the issue for the Buckeye offense was the adjustments from Tubby Smith on defense. While the Gophers remained in man defense, they put a lot of effort into triple teaming Sullinger down low. The strategy really took the Buckeyes offense out of its rythym and took a major componant out of the game. At the same time, the Bucks typically sharp shooters were having trouble draining the resulting open looks. It was exactly what a defense needed to stop the OSU offense.
Coming out of a timeout late in the first half, the Buckeye offense turned on the jets. A big slam from Sullinger off a rebound and a huge three pointer from Aaron Craft gave the Buckeyes the biggest lead of the game, a 12 point advantage. While Minnesota closed the gap to 10 on a fast break dunk near the end of the half, a block from Craft on a three point attempt as the clock ran out gave the Buckeyes the momentum going into the locker room.
For the half, David Lighty’s 13 points were the only double digit scoring. Minnesota’s Mbakwe managed a fantastic half with 8 himself along with 5 rebounds and 2 blocks, compared to Sullinger’s 4 points and 6 rebounds. The Buckeyes shot a surprisingly low 39.4% (13-33) from the field and 27.3% (3-11) from three, nearly the lowest shooting percentage for the season. Minnesota matched the Buckeyes from the floor with a 38.1% (8-21) percentage, but wasn’t able to take enough baskets to keep up with the Buckeye’s scoring. Despite Hoffarber’s presence on the court for the Gophers, they were only able to make 14.3% (1-7) of their three pointers, with Hoffarber scoring the only triple.
Ohio State’s defense in the first half was particularly impressive. The Buckeyes forced at least two shot clock violations, and nearly grabbed several more with the Gophers managing to find baskets at the very last second on a ridiculous shot. With the sort of defense OSU was playing, it was tough for Minnesota to find open passing lanes into the paint, and even more difficult to find an open shooter. I have to give major props to Deshaun Thomas in his defense of the 6-11 Trevor Mbakwe late in the first half. Mbakwe simply couldn’t get the ball at all while Thomas was on him, despite having a 4 inch advantage.
Early in the second half, shots were hard to come by. Fouls, on the other hand, were a dime a dozen for both teams. For whatever reason, the officials had unholstered their whistles and simply did not let the players play the game. Lighty was called for a pathetic charging call – despite Mbakwe clearly not being set under the basket. On the other side, a Gopher was called for lightly tapping a Buckeye’s arm on a rebound. The whistles completely changed the face of the game early in the second, a total 360 from the first half.
The Buckeyes and Gophers ran neck and neck for several long minutes as both teams sought an advantage. Minnesota struck first with a big 3 pointer to close the lead to eight. That opened the floodgates – but on the other end of the floor. Lighty, Diebler and Craft rained in a total of 4 straight three pointers to open up the lead to 18. While that didn’t completely take Minnesota out of the game, it did give the Buckeyes plenty of room to work with going into the end of the game.
The Gophers still had a run left in them. Minnesota put up a 10-1 run after that big OSU scoring drive to start to close the gap. With six minutes still left in the game, the Buckeyes suddenly found themselves in a dog-fight. It didn’t help with Lighty finding himself on the bench with 4 fouls. Ohio State was forced to make due without their most prolific scorer of the day for a couple minutes.
The game finally began to level off a bit. Part of the reason for that was the foul situation, with both teams in the double bonus, and the slightest contact drawing a whistle, both teams were finding their way to the line repeatedly. The situation was clearly advantage Minnesota, as the Gophers continued to close the gap until it was only a 4 point spacing with a minute and a half left in the game.
Minnesota continued to try to whittle down the score, taking advantage of the Buckeyes relatively poor free throw shooting to try to keep the game close. With 15 seconds left on the clock, the Gophers had it at a one possession game, down 3 and with possession of the ball. The Gophers came out looking for a three pointer, particularly looking for Hoffarber to take the shot. Lauderdale did a great job of covering him after a screen and forcing the Gophers into exactly the worst shot they could have possibly asked for. The ball fell short into Sullinger’s hands, giving the Buckeyes the tough win.
The Buckeyes finished the game shooting 39.3% (22-56) from the floor and an improved 36.4% (8-22) from three. David Lighty led all scorers with 19 points and was joined in double figures by Sullinger’s double double of 15 points and 12 rebounds, and Aaron Craft’s first double digit scoring outing of 11 points. Minnesota responded by shooting 42.2% (19-45) from the floor and 14.3% (2-14) from three for the game. The Gophers were led by Mbakwe’s double double of 16 points and 12 rebounds and Al Nolen’s 11 points.
Ohio State will next face Michigan at Crisler Arena on Wednesday, January 12th at 6:30 PM Eastern Time. You’ll be able to see that game on the Big Ten Network.