It was a tale of two halves, but by the end, there was no question who had wanted it more. The Buckeyes and Golden Gophers played a rematch of their first game from mid-January, and the Buckeyes, despite being down by 10 at the half, ran away with the game by a 64-46 final score. The Buckeyes were led in scoring by Sam “Slam” Thompson with 19 points. He was joined in double digits by Lenzelle Smith Jr’s 11, and Shannon Scott’s 10 off the bench. The Gophers responded with 13 from Andre Hollins, and 10 from Deandre Mathieu.
The game began with everying seeming to go Minnesota’s way. The Gophers played smart basketball, exploiting OSU’s man defense to attack the paint. They also forced the Bucks into bad defensive mismatches that they were able to take advantage of. With OSU struggling on the offensive end to hit a basket, let alone find an open look, it was looking like this would be a repeat of the earlier matchup between these two teams.
The sluggish appearance finally started to disappear from the Buckeyes steps as they began to gain traction on defense. A nice job of taking a charge under the basket, followed by a good steal, gave the Bucks some momentum that they could use to their advantage on offense. A Lenzelle Smith three pointer following the steal brought the OSU-heavy crowd back into the game, and put the Buckeyes in a position to tie the game up again.
It was a short lived tie. Having owned a seven point lead, the Gophers started to find the hoop again once the Buckeyes had evened things up. By continuing to attack the basket, the Gophers forced OSU into problems on their interior defense, eventually forcing Trey McDonald into his second foul of the half. Suddenly the Buckeyes were struggling to score again, and the lead grew in the Gopher’s favor.
The Bucks gritted their teeth and got down to business on the defensive end. By slowing down the Gopher attack they were able to stop the bleeding on the scoreboard. That gave the Bucks time to sort out their troubles on offense and begin to find some baskets. The answer came in the form of Amir Williams posting up inside, followed not long after by a Slam Thompson three pointer to close the gap.
Unfortunately, turnovers were a big problem for the Scarlet and Gray tonight. With the lead down to a single possession, Amir Williams twice got the basketball in the low post with a chance to score, and both times committed an egregious turnover. Minnesota was able to take advantage of that, along with a couple poor shots from the Bucks, to turn the one possession game into a double digit game in short order. The only thing that kept the Buckeyes from being down more than 10 points at the half was a herculean defensive effort that ended with an Amadeo Della Valle block on the interior with eight seconds left in the half.
The second half briefly started much like the first half ended. Minnesota managed to open the lead up to twelve after forcing a stop on OSU’s first possession. Things turned around in a hurry, however, when Lenzelle Smith, and eventually Aaron Craft, began to attack. Smith picked up four points, two off an offensive rebound, and Craft was able to net a basket on a solo fast break after a steal. The momentum didn’t stop there, as Amir Williams and Slam Thompson both got into the act to bring the game within two before the first TV timeout of the second half. When Ross finally got into the act, his basket and-1 gave the Buckeyes their first lead of the ball-game.
The run increased to a 17-0 run as the Gophers continued to struggle on the offensive end. The scoreless period for Minnesota continued for more than six minutes of the game. When they did finally score, the Buckeyes responded on the other end with another 3 point play from Slam Thompson on a layup and a free throw. And it did not stop there for Thompson, who quickly turned the game into his personal highlight show. Several additional fast-break baskets, including a nice ally-oop from Shannon Scott, put the Buckeyes lead into double digits. The twenty-two point swing, from being 12 down, was more points than the Bucks had scored in the entire first half.
Minnesota finally got control of their turnovers and other offensive mistakes with only ten minutes remaining in the game. That enabled them to finally find their shot again, but also to limit the OSU fast break, which had killed them through the second half. They were again able to set up their zone defense and slow down the Buckeye assault in the paint. However, the damage had been done, and the Bucks possessed all of the confidence. It was therefore no problem to continue to push the attack and find the open look at the basket.
After hitting only 8 baskets the entire first half, the Buckeyes shot 23-52 (44.2%) from the floor and 3-14 (21.4%) from three. Minnesota responded with 17-48 (35.4%) and 4-17 (23.5%) respectively. The Buckeyes also won the rebounding (35-26), assists (12-7), steals (7-2), and blocks (6-1) numbers for the game.
The Buckeyes will next play the Penn State Nitany Lions on Thursday, February 27th. You’ll be able to see that game on ESPN2 at 7:00 PM eastern time.