Three days after a blowout loss to Wisconsin last weekend, Thad Matta offered a simple remedy. It was one that was mostly aimed at a underwhelming senior class whose inconsistency has underlined a season of highs and lows for Ohio State.
“Playing better,” Matta said, “is an option.”
On Thursday night in the Big Ten Tournament, Shannon Scott, the senior point guard, took his coach up on his suggestion. He scored a career-high 21 points and the Buckeyes, which survived a sluggish first half, 15 turnovers, and a late scare, defeated Minnesota, 79-73, at the United Center in Chicago.
With the victory, Matta became the school's winningest coach with 298 wins.
While D’Angelo Russell, the star freshman forward, led his team with 23 points, it was Scott who seemed to light a fire under an Ohio State team still nursing the wounds left from a 24-point to the Badgers on Sunday.
The Buckeyes made 50 percent of their shots, moved the ball around with a certain swiftness and made Minnesota pay for their 14 turnovers, scoring 23 points of its blunders.
|28-60 (47)||FGM-FGA (PCT.)||26-52 (50)|
|7-20 (35)||3PM-3PA (PCT.)||5-19 (26)|
|10-14 (71)||FTM-FTA (PCT.)||22-28 (79)|
The Golden Gophers made five of their first six shots, before Ohio State locked them down with a stingy defensive effort early in the first half. The Buckeyes pulled ahead by eight points, but it was a brief cushion quickly eroded by poor shooting and, especially, an unrequited affinity for shots behind the arc, where Ohio State made one of 11 tries from deep.
Meanwhile, Minnesota leaned on freshman guard Nate Mason, who slashed his way to the basket for nine points in the first half. The teams were tied at 35 at intermission.
In the second half, the Buckeyes turned to Russell — who, at one point, scored five-straight points as part of a run that lifted his club ahead once again, where Ohio State's lead bloated to as many as 13 points before a cold spell rendered it ineffective on the offensive end.
With about five minutes to play, the Gophers cut the deficit to 65-63. It wasn't enough, however, to overcome a bevy of other flaws that ultimately doomed Minnesota.
Russell buried a 3-pointer with under two minutes to play to put the Buckeyes back up, 72-65. Not long after, Scott sprinted toward the basket for a layup that all but put the contest away.
Ohio State, who earned the sixth seed in the league’s tournament, will play Michigan State, the third seed, on Friday night.