After Dominant Start, Ohio State Holds Off Minnesota Comeback Effort in 84-74 Win on Backs of Jamison Battle, Bruce Thornton

By Andy Anders on December 3, 2023 at 8:42 pm

You know something has gone right when your entire home crowd is on its feet applauding during an opposing timeout.

Such was the case for Ohio State against Minnesota after just 11:26 of action in Value City Arena on Sunday. It was warranted.

MINNESOTA 28 46 74
OHIO STATE 42 42 84

Falling to his face through contact, Dale Bonner had just cashed in a floater that extended the Buckeyes' run to 11-0 – already their second such run to that point in the game – and their overall lead to 30-12. Minnesota coach Ben Johnson signaled for a stoppage and an ovation erupted from the Ohio State contingent.

Despite some strong pushes from their opposition as the game progressed, their strong start allowed the Buckeyes to hang on against the Gophers 84-74.

Jamison Battle, who transferred to Ohio State from Minnesota this offseason, scored his highest point total yet in a Buckeye uniform with 25 points thanks to a 4-of-6 night from 3-point range. Bruce Thornton piled up 26 points during an 8-for-12 night from the field and Roddy Gayle Jr. added 16.

Felix Okpara collected five blocks and seven rebounds to go with three points in a dominant defensive performance during which he affected many more shots than he swatted. He thwarted much of the Gophers' interior scoring efforts.

Dawson Garcia put on a show for Minnesota in a losing effort, racking up 36 points and 11 rebounds.

First half

Battle's motivation against his former team was apparent from early on.

A pair of well-contested 3s looked easy coming out of his hands, hitting net with minimal rim, and he used the two shots to draw defenders out for a pump-fake and drive that drew a shooting foul and bailed Ohio State out from a dwindling shot clock.

Battle's personal 8-0 run was the beginning of an 11-0 jolt for the team that set it ahead 14-2 less than six minutes into the game.

Minnesota countered with a 6-0 run of its own, but Battle went to work in the post to get another bucket to make it 10 points in the first eight minutes and make it 16-8 Ohio State.

Soon, it was Thornton's turn to get going.

The star sophomore converted an and-one floater from near the right elbow to add three points to his ledger and expand Ohio State's edge to 19-10.

Minnesota cut the lead back to 19-12 on a dunk, but there commenced the Buckeyes' second 11-0 run.

Thornton rose up to hit a contested jumper from the same right elbow, then on Ohio State's next possession, he drew a foul going for a layup that seemed haphazardly flicked upward through the contact.

It hit high off the backboard and deflected straight into the netting. Thornton converted the three-point play, Gayle cashed in a mid-range jumper and then dimed up Zed Key on a later possession for a slam and his signature raise-the-roof celebration, which freshman Scotty Middleton also partook in. That all set up Bonner's floater and the ovation from the crowd.

Another run from Ohio State, this time an 8-0 streak, was catalyzed by a 3-pointer from Middleton. Thornton made a layup similar to the flashier of his and-one conversions before Gayle converted his own three points the old-fashioned way. The Buckeyes' lead now stood at 42-20.

Minnesota managed to close the half on an 8-0 run, but still trailed 42-28 at intermission.

Battle, Gayle and Thornton all scored double figures in the opening period.

Second half

84 POINTS 74
26-53 (49.1%) FGM-FGA (PCT.) 28-58 (48.3%)
9-17 (52.9%) 3PM-3PA (PCT.) 4-14 (28.6%)
23-28 (82.1%) FTM-FTA (PCT.) 14-20 (70%)

The Gophers extended their run to 10-0 to start the second half, but who else but Thornton to stop the bleeding? He converted his third old-fashioned 3-point play of the day to make it 47-32 Ohio State.

Another Thornton layup combined with a contested corner 3 from Middleton pushed Ohio State's lead to 20 once again at 54-34.

Garcia was the main thing keeping Minnesota afloat. He scored 28 of the Gophers' 46 points in the second half.

Going into the under-12 media timeout, he backed down Battle and converted an and-one layup to cut Ohio State's lead to 58-44, then finished a dribble-drive a minute later to make it 58-46.

Battle had the answer this time. He drew a foul fighting for an offensive rebound to get to the line and hit a pair, then nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner.

Again, Minnesota cut the lead to 12, but Battle leaked out in transition, took a pass from Thornton and slammed it home to surpass 20 points for the second time since he arrived in Columbus.

But Minnesota – or more specifically, Garcia – still wasn't laying down.

He followed up a triple from Cam Christie with another strong layup that cut Ohio State's advantage to single digits for the first time since 10:19 remained in the first half.

Thornton pushed the edge back to 11, but Garcia backed down Evan Mahaffey and converted another lay-in through a foul. He missed the free throw, but he had 30 points and Minnesota trailed 68-59 with 5:17 to play.

A five-point possession off an Elijah Hawkins 3 and a post-shot foul on Garcia made Ohio State's lead the slimmest it had been since its second 11-0 run, down to six points at 70-64. A Christie jumper kept it at that margin after a pair of Thornton free throws.

That's when Ohio State delivered a death blow in climactic fashion.

Battle, Thornton and Gayle all hit 3-pointers on back-to-back-to-back possessions that extended the Buckeyes' lead to 81-70. Thornton's came on a filthy crossover step-back shot.

What's next?

Ohio State plays its penultimate mid-major opponent of the year in Miami (Ohio) back in Value City Arena on Wednesday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m., with the game available on B1G+, the Big Ten's streaming service.

Game notes

  • As Garcia started racking up points in the second half, Ohio State countered with a big lineup that featured Battle at small forward, Key at power forward and Okpara at center.
  • Middleton amassed his highest point total since the Buckeyes' season-opener against Oakland, scoring eight points.
  • Ohio State turned the ball over 13 times against just 12 assists.
  • The Buckeyes continue to shoot well from the free-throw line, going 82% at the charity stripe against Minnesota.
  • Battle's transition dunk was the first slam he's had since coming to Columbus.
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