In a closer than expected outcome, Ohio State blew a 15 point 2nd half lead before finally outlasting Minnesota thanks to a final defensive stand that saw William Buford contest a desperation triple try from Austin Hollins to preserve a 67-64 Buckeye victory this afternoon in Value City Arena.
David Lighty paced the Buckeyes with 19 points (13 in 1st half) and captured his 111th career win, an Ohio State record. Jared Sullinger offered up another dub-dub with 18 points and 12 boards while Aaron Craft had a strong showing against seasoned Al Nolen with 11 points and seven dimes in 34 minutes of action.
Buford and Jon Diebler added nine apiece with neither finding the range, shooting a combined 6/19 on the afternoon.
In a 2ndhalf filled with runs by both teams, it didn’t look this would be a one possession game after Ohio State answered a Gopher 7-0 run with a 12-2 blitz featuring three pointers by Craft, Diebler and two from Lighty to take a 55-37 lead with 8:35 to play.
Minnesota roared back however with a 12-1 run of their own capped by two Colton Iverson free throws cutting the deficit to 56-49 with 5:33 remaining. Sullinger emphatically ended the run, or so it seemed, with a nasty dunk in traffic making it 58-49 at the 5:12 mark but that was the last field goal the Buckeyes would convert. Rodney Williams logged a dunk of his own before Buford and Sullinger hit a pair of free throws each making it 62-51 with 3:40 left.
The Gophers countered with an 8-1 run trimming the lead to 63-59 with 1:38 on the clock off an alley oop dunk by Trevor Mbakwe, a steal and layup from Hollins, two free throws from Blake Hoffarber and a layup from Iverson.
Craft hit 3 of 4 free throws but Al Nolen answered five points of his own in between a Diebler free throw before Tubby Smith purposely fouled Dallas Lauderdale with :29 left. Twin Cities promptly missed both tries and after rebounding a Nolen miss, Lauderdale saved the ball but directly to Hollins allowing the Gophers to call a timeout and draw up a final play.
Lauderdale and Diebler harassed Hoffarber on the wing forcing Hollins to heave a triple with no chance of drawing iron as Buford applied the heat.
Outscored 45-32 in the 2ndhalf, the Buckeyes surrendered 46% from the floor in the final 20 minutes but held them to 38% overall while breaking even on the glass (34-34).
Ten turnovers in the 2nd half also helped Minnesota close the gap and the tallied 165 points off turnovers for the game. The Buckeye defense held it’s own, scoring 24 points off 15 Gopher turnovers. Uncharacteristically struggling to avoid fouls, Ohio State allowed Minnesota to take 27 free throws, including 19 in the 2nd half – Minnesotamade all 19 – to keep things close.
As expected, the game started as a physical, defensive affair with OSU holding Minnesota without a field goal for a six minute stretch helping turn a 10-10 tie into a 17-11 lead after Lighty picked Maverick Ahanmisi’s pocket and converted a pair of free throws after starting the 7-1 run with a triple off a nice look from Buford.
After Minnesota battled back to 20-18 after a Ralph Sampson Jr. jumper from the top of the key, the Buckeyes turned up the D sparking a 10-0 run. As usual, the defensive lock down was keyed by Aaron Craft who first tied up Al Nolen then helped force a shot clock violation before finding Buford on the wing for a triple and a 23-18 OSU lead. After a three second call against the Gophers, Lighty struck again with a soft jumper near the lane. Another Minny shot clock violation and a turnover off a bad pass along the baseline kept the empty Gopher possessions rolling and the Buckeyes countered with a monster dunk from Sullinger off Lighty’s miss of a driving layup to make it 27-18.
After a Colton Iverson miss in the lane, Craft drilled a trey to make it 30-18 with 2:55 left in the half before Deshaun Thomas grabbed a loose ball and converted in the lane sandwiched between another Sampson jumper from the top of the key and a Rodney Williams dunk in transition to make it 32-22 at the break.
Ohio State held Minnesota to 38% shooting in the opening 20 minutes and converted eight turnovers into 11 points while holding the long and lean Gophers to 10 points in the paint by way of winning the glass 20-16. Meanwhile, the OSU offense hit just 39% themselves including 27% from deep (3/11) as the refs let the defenses get after it.
Moving to 16-0 overall and 3-0 in conference, the Buckeyes travel to Ann Arbor for a 6:30pm matchup against Michigan.