Unlike when these two teams met in Minneapolis in early January, Ohio State didn't jump out to a big lead behind the hot shooting from D'Angelo Russell. Instead it was more of a see-saw first half, with the two teams exchanging the lead a number of times. Buckeyes fans had to hold their breath for a few minutes as Russell exited the game near the midway point of the first half with an apparent hand injury. The good news was it didn't look to be anything serious, with the freshman returning with just over six minutes to go in the half.
The biggest story for the Buckeyes in the first 20 minutes was their dreadful shooting from long distance. During the first half, Ohio State was only able to make one of the 12 three-pointers they attempted. Luckily for the Buckeyes, they fared a lot better from inside, making 13 of the 19 shots they took from inside the three-point arc.
Very early on in the game, it looked as if Minnesota was going to pick up where they left off in the second half last night against Rutgers with their hot shooting. The Golden Gophers were able to hit a couple early three-pointers to jump out to a 12-8 lead, with Joey King and Carlos Morris burying shots from distance. Minnesota wasn't able to extend the lead though, with the Buckeyes responding with a 14-4 run to take a 22-16 lead.
Minnesota had to be encouraged in the first half with the play of Andre Hollins, who was able to score six points in the first half after laying a goose egg against Rutgers last night, missing all five of the shots he attempted. The Golden Gophers were able to battle back, shaking off some of their sloppy play during Ohio State's early run to tie the game at 35 heading into halftime. The comeback was even more impressive for Minnesota considering their center Maurice Walker only played six minutes in the first half while picking up three fouls. In the first matchup of the season between the schools, Walker was a force inside for Minnesota, registering 18 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
The Golden Gophers came out of the halftime break with a couple early buckets, and it looked like Joey King might be primed for another big half, much like he had against Rutgers last night, but momentum quickly shifted back to the Buckeyes side for most of the first part of the second half. Ohio State was able to extend it to a double-digit lead with under 10 minutes left in the half, but Minnesota wouldn't go away quietly, with the Golden Gophers cutting the lead to just two points with under six minutes to go.
Marc Loving quieted the Minnesota run with a basket to put Ohio State back up four, and Russell added some free throws to add to the lead. Minnesota responded with a bucket by Walker, but a Russell three-pointer really took the wind out of the sails of the Golden Gophers and OSU held on to advance.
3 Things We Learned:
1) The Marc Loving from tonight's game is the Marc Loving the Buckeyes need the rest of the year. The seven points Loving registered in the first half alone gave him his highest scoring total in a game since the Maryland game on January 29th, which was the last game he played in before his three-game suspension. While the three-pointer Loving hit a short time after he came off the bench, the more impressive thing about Loving's play was the increased aggressive he showed taking the ball inside. What pushed the Buckeye lead to 22-16 early in the first half was Loving grabbing an offensive rebound and immediately laying the basketball in while getting fouled.
Of course Loving isn't gonna be nearly as active as Jae'Sean Tate inside, but any little bit he can do to take some pressure off Russell and Scott on the perimeter will help the Buckeyes going forward. If Loving can take the basketball inside and either create his own shot, or pull the defense in for a kickout to the outside will just give Ohio State an added dimension opponents will have to prepare for heading into the NCAA Tournament, and could be possibly be a key factor in the Buckeyes pulling out a game or two the rest of the season.
2) Shannon Scott isn't going to close out his Ohio State career without making some noise. After possibly setting some unrealistic expectations with three very strong performances to start the season, Shannon Scott has put together a string of strong games lately. In four of the last five games, Scott has scored at least 10 points, and tonight was his best game of that stretch.
Obviously the competition the rest of the season is only going to get tougher, but it isn't a stretch to expect Scott to hit double figures in scoring and dish out at least five assists in each game. Russell may get the headlines, but the combination of the freshman and the senior is one of the best in the country when they are clicking together. With Ohio State missing pretty much everything for long distance in the first half, a big reason Ohio State was able to tread water /and head into the half tied with Minnesota was the steadying influence of Scott from the floor, who finished the half with eight points, four rebounds, and four assists.
3) Whatever Ohio State did from behind the arc in the first half, they better not do that again the rest of the year. Let's face it, Minnesota isn't a very good team. If the Buckeyes go into the NCAA Tournament as a 8/9 seed, win their first game and go on to play a one seed and shoot like they did from three in the first half, they'll be toast. To Ohio State's credit, a lot of the missed three-pointers in the first half weren't bad shots, they weren't falling. The tournament format though won't allow for a lapse for even a half, or else the Buckeyes are packing their bags and heading back to Columbus with their season over.
Towards the end of the first half it almost felt like the more Ohio State missed from three-point range, the more shots they threw up to try and break the terrible run of shooting they were on. That might have not been the smartest idea when they were finding a lot of success inside the arc. While D'Angelo Russell is capable of breaking Ohio State out of a slump at anytime with how he can shoot the basketball, the Buckeyes will have to made some adjustments a little quicker going forward when they aren't finding a certain aspect of their game not working. Should they too long to make the proper adjustments the rest of the season, the sooner they'll see their run not only in the Big Ten Tournament, but also in the NCAA Tournament go up in smoke.