COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.
At least that is what athletes have been told for decades. No. 24 Ohio State found that adage true Saturday night in a 64-46 victory over outmanned Minnesota at Value City Arena.
The Buckeyes did not score until nearly four minutes had wound off the clock, giving the Golden Gophers a seven-point cushion that grew to 12 in the second half. But Ohio State scored 17 straight points during a decisive 27-5 run that put Minnesota in the rear-view mirror. Forward Sam Thompson scored 10 consecutive points during the spurt.
Credit Ohio State coach Thad Matta with an impassioned halftime speech.
“In essence, I just said, ‘There’s nothing I can draw up on the board or talk about until we play better basketball,'” Matta said. “We didn’t have what we needed and we weren’t attacking. The bottom line, I said, ‘You have to play better.'”
Thompson paced Ohio State with a season-high 19 points, including 16 after the break. Guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. had 13 points and six rebounds, guard Shannon Scott scored 10 points and guard Aaron Craft contributed six points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals.
The Gophers went through an almost 14-minute stretch in the second half in which they made just 3 of 14 shots from the field and turned the ball over seven times. The Buckeyes scored 34 points in the paint, 17 points off turnovers and 17 second-chance points.
“They were getting out on the break; we lost them in the zone a couple times,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “Too many turnovers led to easy buckets.”
Guard Andre Hollins led Minnesota with 13 points. Fellow guard Deandre Mathieu added 10 points. The Gophers made 17 of 48 shots from the field for the game.
Ohio State outscored Minnesota 46-18 in the second half, shooting a robust 56.7 percent from the floor. The Gophers never got closer than eight once the Buckeyes grabbed the lead.
“Obviously, great first half, awful second half,” Pitino said. “We continue to do things that don’t allow us to win. We had nine turnovers in the second half, and they made us pay on every single on of them.”
The defeat serves as a crippling blow to Minnesota’s NCAA tournament hopes. The Gophers (17-11, 6-9 Big Ten) have lost six of their past eight games, falling to seventh place in the conference.
Ohio State (22-6, 9-6) has won six of seven games in February after losing five of six after New Year’s. With two weeks remaining in the season, the Buckeyes are in a race to receive a coveted first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament. They reside in fifth place — the top four teams get a free pass to the quarterfinals.
“Defense is what this team is based on, and it’s how we win,” Ohio State forward LaQuinton Ross said. “Every game here on out is a desperation game for us. The guys in the locker room know that, too. We all know what’s at stake.”
In the teams’ previous meeting this season, Minnesota outrebounded Ohio State by 15. Saturday served as a role reversal, with the Buckeyes outrebounding the Gophers 35-25.
Ohio State missed its first five shots from the field before rattling off seven consecutive points. The Buckeyes made 6 of 22 shots from the floor in the first half and no player had more than four points. They were limited to a season-low 18 points in the first half.
Minnesota used an 11-2 run late in the half to build a 28-18 halftime lead. Forward Joey King and Hollins each scored seven points in the half. The Golden Gophers never trailed before the break.
“The first half was definitely the worst we’ve played,” Thompson said. “Coach Matta said we haven’t laid an egg all season, but we definitely did in the first half. The second half was some of the best basketball we’ve played all season.”
Thompson provided the exclamation points with an alley-oop during the Buckeyes’ second-half onslaught. It sent the 18,809 fans in attendance into a frenzy and foreshadowed what was to come.
Minnesota was going for its first season sweep of Ohio State since the 2004-05 season.
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