Coming off a tough home loss to the Michigan State Spartans, the Buckeyes were looking to try to get back on track in the Big Ten. Getting a big road win, especially with the kind of focus the Buckeyes displayed in the victory, was important to see after how poorly the team looked against Michigan State. For a while the Bucks looked like they had the game easily under control, but give the Gophers credit for making a fight of it by the end of the game.
William Buford got it going early for the Buckeyes. He sank two quick outside shots, including a three pointer, and a nice floater on the left side before any other Buckeye even attempted a shot. Buford looked extremely focused all game and clearly wanted this win in a big way. He eventually scored 10 straight points without missing a shot before Minnesota began to find a way to defend him better. However, how Buford start’s a game is a good indicator of how the whole game will go – and Buford again had an excellent game.
Minnesota wasn’t just going to let that happen in their house lying down. Andre and Austin Hollins (unrelated) sank a couple sweet long range shots to help the Gophers keep the score close early. The vast majority of of the Gopher’s early points came from outside in the first few minutes as the OSU defense did a good job of shutting Minnesota down in the paint. It came as no surprise with Trevor Mbakwe out for the season.
Sam Thompson again saw early time in this one, coming into the game for Lenzelle Smith with more than 10 minutes left in the first half. It’s clear that he is quickly becoming the high-octane six-man for this team. As soon as he hit the floor, he picked up a pair of steals and a huge sky-high rebound and significantly changed the tempo of the Buckeye’s offense. He shortly added a couple of his signature dunks to take the air out of William’s Arena.
Amazingly, Thad Matta went deep into his bench. Amir Williams, who we haven’t seen for several weeks, managed to get first half playing time along with Shannon Scott. The lineup, which included Thompson, Smith, and DeShaun Thomas, was young but potent enough to build the lead against Minnesota.
Tubby Smith was finally forced to call a timeout after the Buckeyes went on an incredible 18-0 run after catching the Gophers flat-footed on defense repeatedly. The run lasted more than six and a half minutes and showed yet more of the struggles that Minnesota has become famous for in the last calendar year. The Gopher guards were unable to make good decisions with the basketball. They commited seven turnovers that limited their possessions in a game they simply couldn’t afford to have empty trips down the floor.
Leading into the half, the Buckeye’s hot shooting began to cool off. The Bucks struggled to find baskets, going 1-9 over the closing minutes of the half despite having several open looks. Particularly frustrating was Buford’s struggles to hit open looks, as he pulled his shots short off the front of the rim. With time clicking down, and the Minnesota zone giving the Buckeye’s problems with their entry passes, Buford found a tough shot on the right baseline to give the Buckeyes a 12 point lead going into the break.
After ending the first half on such a poor shooting run, the Buckeyes came out of the half with a pair of quick jumpers from Craft and Thomas. Craft’s shot to open the half came off a quick dribble as he found a open spot at the right elbow for his first points of the game. It seemed like the half had managed to warm up the Bucks’ cold shooting, but Buford, Thomas, and Sullinger all bricked easy outside shots to put those hopes to bed.
Minnesota began to slowly close the gap with the Buckeyes struggling to find their jump shot. Julian Welsh dropped in a nice jumper from the free-throw line after an OSU turnover following a Minnesota floater for two. The OSU defense, which was missing Craft due to his three fouls, was struggling to limit the Gopher’s attack and quickly found the lead cut to single digits.
Matta was forced to bring Craft back into the game to try to bring a spark to the Buckeye defense, but it was slow to take hold. Minnesota continued to score points, though a nice Buford jumper broke the run, and found ways of drawing fouls in the paint. Few teams the Buckeyes play manage to succeed at forcing OSU into fouls with the strategy the Buckeyes use on defense. It was surprising to see Minnesota have so much success getting to the line – finding their way to the charity stripe 23 times.
With the Buckeyes generally having difficulties keeping Minnesota down, William Buford began to reassert himself. Other than a bad flagrant foul after coughing up a tough Craft pass at the top of the key, Buford hit a couple critical baskets to keep the Buckeyes moving. With the threat of the outside shot finally rearing its head, Minnesota was forced to allow the inlet pass to Sullinger again; which Sully happily took advantage of and scored several high percentage baskets.
The Gophers had an opportunity to close the game down nine at the under four-minute timeout.
The Buckeyes shot 25-56 (44.6%) from the floor and 6-19 (31.6%) from three, while Minnesota shot 24-52 (46.2%) and 5-20 (25%) respectively. The Buckeyes outrebounded Minnesota 37-32 and picked up 10 steals to the Gopher’s 4, but fell behind 16-15 in assists.
Ohio State next faces the Michigan wolverines in Crisler Arena on Saturday, February 18th at 9:00 PM EST. You will be able to see that game on ESPN.