After a loss to Northwestern evaporated the momentum Ohio State basketball was building, the Buckeyes needed to bounce back in a major way if they were to pull themselves out of the Big Ten basement.
They responded with one of their best first halves of the season, as the Buckeyes rode Trevor Thompson and some questionable shot selection from Minnesota to beat the Gophers 78-72 and raise their record to 13-8 (3-5 Big Ten).
The Buckeyes led by as many as 17 in the first half thanks to sharing the basketball, Thompson’s domination, some strong free throw shooting, and questionable shot selection by the Gophers.
But a 12-0 run by Minnesota (15-6, 3-5 Big Ten) near the end of the half trimmed the margin to a more respectable 40-35 Buckeye lead — and the Gophers wouldn’t go away for the rest of the game.
The second half remained tight, as the Buckeyes struggled to recapture the shooting magic they enjoyed in the first half and Minnesota’s persistence on the offensive glass forced the Buckeyes to work. But more strong free throw shooting (OSU went 23 of 30 from the foul line) and tough defense were enough to carry the day, as the Bucks never trailed in the second half even though the Gophers pulled to within two at the four-minute mark.
The Buckeyes went over five minutes without a made field goal late in the second half, but timely free throw shooting (aided by Minnesota foul trouble), provided just enough points to hold off the Gophers in a wild last two minutes full of mistakes from both sides.
Thompson finished with a career-high 19 points, along with 10 rebounds. Marc Loving also added 19 points, while Jae’Sean Tate added 10, and seven boards. Nate Mason scored 21 for Minnesota.
Three things we learned:
1) Trevor Thompson is good. A common critique of the Matta era as of late has been that most Buckeyes don’t demonstrably improve year to year. This assessment certainly doesn’t apply to Thompson, who has improved substantially, and showed off exactly how against the Gophers. Thompson hit free throws, protected the rim, drained jumpers, and attacked Minnesota as he established himself as a guy the Buckeyes could run their offense around, setting up open shots as the Gophers collapsed around him.
On a team without a “guy”, Thompson might actually be closest thing, when you look at contributions on offense and defense. If he continues to perform like he did today, Thompson could be a professional basketball player.
2) Andre Wesson is starting to become something. Wesson isn’t a finished product, and growing pains during his freshman year were to be expected. But pressed into additional playing time after Kam Williams dinged his hip again, Wesson showed a glimpse of what he’s capable of. He drained a trio of free throws, forced a steal off a double team, and then found JaQuan Lyle in transition for an easy three, all within a four-minute stretch. Wesson finished with nine points, and some solid effort plays.
Wesson’s a bit of a three and D type player now, but as he gets more comfortable with himself and the speed of the college game, he might become even more. With his brother beasting in high school right now, the Wesson brothers could be a dangerous combo for Ohio State basketball relatively soon.
3) The postseason is still out there. Forget the NCAA Tournament for a minute. Without some major profile rehabilitation, or a Big Ten Tournament win, that’s not happening. But at 13-8, Ohio State can still improve their Big Ten Tournament standing and position themselves for an NIT run. That may not be especially satisfying, but if that run provides more time for players like Andre Wesson and Micah Potter to mature and improve in postseason, high-pressure situations, it will benefit Ohio State even more for next season.