After knocking off a maroon and gold team last week to extend its winning streak to five games (its longest such streak in nearly two years), the Ohio State men’s basketball team (7-1, 1-0) welcomed another maroon and gold team to the Schottenstein Center Sunday evening in the Big Ten opener.
Minnesota (5-3, 0-1) is coming off of a 97-64 blowout win over New Orleans Thursday night. The Golden Gophers had five different players score in double digits as the team nearly put up 100 points, but even with that performance, Minnesota was still just No. 127 in offensive efficiency in the nation coming into this game, according to KenPom. Conversely, Ohio State was No. 17. in the country entering this game.
Chris Holtmann went with the same starting lineup he’s used all season, with sophomores Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle, Felix Okpara, and Evan Mahaffey joined by senior (and former Minnesota star) Jamison Battle.
Ben Johnson’s Gophers rolled out a starting lineup of Johua Ola-Joseph, Elijah Hawkins, Braeden Carrington, Isaiah Ihnen, and Dawson Garcia.
Ohio State sprinted out to an 11-2 lead over the Gophers by the first media timeout, thanks in large part to the heroics of a former Gopher sticking it to his former team. Battle took three shots, including two three-pointers, over the first 3:23, and knocked down all three of them, leading to a quick eight points.
The Buckeyes pushed their lead out to 30-15 by the under-eight media timeout, mostly in thanks to Battle and Thornton. The pair both scored in double digits in the first half, and were given lots of extra opportunities thanks to plenty of Minnesota turnovers. However, Minnesota went on an 8-0 run over the final 2:37 of the first half to go into the break down 42-28, when things certainly looked like they were about to get much, much uglier.
Thornton, Gayle, and Battle all scored in double digits in the first half for Ohio State, which shot 55.6% overall over the first 20 minutes. Garcia had eight points and five rebounds in the first half for Minnesota.
Ohio State’s 14-point lead held firm by the under-12 timeout, with the Buckeyes leading 58-44. It turned into Dawson Garcia against the world, with Minnesota’s junior big man taking nearly half of his team’s shots for the second-straight year against the Buckeyes. Ohio State had no answer for him, but fortunately Minnesota wasn’t able to string enough stops together on the other end to cut into the deficit.
After falling way behind over the first 10 minutes or so, the Golden Gophers hung with the Buckeyes for the remaining 30 but weren’t ever able to string enough stops together to make it a one-possession game again. What once looked like a Buckeye blowout wound up being a grind-it-out win, but a win nonetheless. By the time the buzzer sounded, Ohio State had locked up its sixth consecutive win, 84-74.
The Buckeyes were led by Thornton, who scored 26 points on 8-of-12 shooting over 33 minutes. He was 9-of-10 at the free throw line, and had five assists, three steals, and two rebounds. Battle had a season-high 25 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 4-of-6 from three-point range. Battle also chipped in seven rebounds and a block.
Dawson Garcia had 36 points, 11 rebounds, and two steals for Minnesota over 38 minutes. He was also knocked down 12 of his 14 free throws, and took (including shots that he was fouled on) more than half of Minnesota’s shot attempts.
If you weren’t around tonight to see Ohio State open Big Ten play with a win and extend its winning streak to six, here are a few key moments and plays that had a hand in the big win:
Just a bit of a sibling rivalry
As many times as he was asked about it this week, Battle would not bite on the idea that there was any exta motivation playing against his former home state school. Battle said multiple times this past week that the guys on Minnesota are “his brothers” and that there was nothing but love between him and his former Gopher teammates.
Maybe it wasn’t fueled by disdain for his “brothers”, but Battle came out scorching hot in the first few minutes of Sunday’s game, dropping eight points on his former team over the first 3:23 of the game. After knocking down a three from the far corner 1:46 into the game, he followed it with a step-back triple from the top of the key a moment later, and was converted a pair of free throws after being fouled at the 16:37 mark. Those free throws put Ohio State up 10-2 in the early going.
Two-man wrecking crew
Thornton and Battle were about as close to perfect as could be in the first half of this one, combining for 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting. The two outscored Minnesota by themselves for most of the first half, finishing with six fewer points than the entire Minnesota team in the first half.
Taking advantage of turnovers
Amongst several other issues, the Gophers did not take care of the ball at all. Minnesota turned over the biscuit nine times in the first half of Sunday night’s game, which led to 11 Ohio State points for the Buckeyes. Minnesota did better in the second half, only turning it over four times, which turned into seven second-chance points.
Minnesota closes the first half strong
It looked like Minnesota was on the brink of getting run off the floor at the end of the first half, with Ohio State up 22 with 2:37 remaining until the bell. However, the Buckeyes gave up multiple easy dunks plus two extra buckets down the stretch, allowing Minnesota to end the half on an 8-0 run. That gave the Gophers some confidence heading the locker room, but in reality Ohio State should’ve been up 25+ points, and the game should’ve been all but over before the halftime bell.
Ohio State was still not sure what to do with Dawson Garcia
Garcia was the main reason the Gophers were able to upset Ohio State in Columbus last season — aside from that arroneus foul call at the very end of the game. In that game, Garica had 28 points on 9-of-15 shooting, nine rebounds, and two assists.
Garcia wasn’t as efficient on Sunday, but he was still all over the box score. Minnesota’s leading scorer carries a heavy load for the Gophers — so much so, that he took nearly half of their shot attempts in this game.
Ohio State started the game with Mahaffey guarding him, but in the second half made a switch and put Okpara on him. At 6-foot-11, he’s a tough matchup since he can step several feet away from the basket and still knock down shots. Garcia finished with 36 points on 12-of-25 shooting in 38 minutes. He also had 11 rebounds, two steals, and an assist.
The second half had absolutely no rhythm to it, with both teams getting into the bonus with 11:02 remaining in the game. With 11 minutes still to play, 30 fouls had been called, with nine different players getting called for multiple fouls by that point.
By the time the final horn sounded, the two teams had combined for 40 personal fouls (22 for Minnesota, 18 for Ohio State).
Garcia cuts it to single-digits
Ohio State never figured out how to stop Dawson Garica. Even when he missed his shots, he was somehow scoring points. With 5:55 remaining in the game and Ohio State up 66-55, Garcia drove to the basket and missed a shot. The rebound went high in the air above the rim, and both he and Mahaffey got a hand on it, tipping it into the air yet again. Garcia was able to get a hand on it the third time over Mahaffey, tipping the ball into the basket for 27th and 28th points of the game. This pulled Minnesota back within nine points for the first time since the 10:46 mark of the first half — a stretch of 24:51.
Three possessions, three guys, three shots, three makes
With Minnesota having just cut Ohio State’s lead down to six points, Battle knocked down a three-pointer from the corner near the Buckeyes’ bench to push it back to 75-66 with 3:08 remaining. Then, Garcia scored again to cut the lead to seven.
On the next possession, Thornton was able to make Carrington bite on a big stutter step and then sank a three from the far wing, pushing the lead back out to 78-68 with 2:41 left in the game. Pharrel Payne threw down a dunk at the other end for an answer, getting Minnesota back within eight points again.
On the very next possession, it was Roddy Gayle who knocked down a three, this time from the wing close to Ohio State’s bench. That pushed the lead back out to 81-70 with 1:53 left in the game, and the Golden Gophers were dead in the water.
It was an impressive feat for no other reason that none of those three guys demanded the ball again after their made shots. The Buckeyes were content finding the open man, and were able to knock down threes on three consecutive possessions at the most crucial time to put the game away. When was the last time Ohio State had the personnel to do that?
Collectively, those three guys had 67 points on 20-of-32 shooting.
Return of the salmon suit
Chris Holtmann’s infamous salmon suit jacket, which we have discussed numerous times over the years here at Land-Grant Holy Land, made an appearance for tonight’s game against the Gophers.
A favorite amongst fans and amongst his own players, Holtmann has typically only pulled out the salmon suit for one or two of the biggest home games each year. A few years ago, Holtmann wore it when the Buckeyes took on Cleveland State at historic St. John arena, and again when they faced Kent State over at that old barn across Lane Avenue.
Tonight did not seem like a big enough occasion to break out his first-string suit jacket, but in his defense, Holtmann did hype up this Minnesota team quite a bit this week, and the program gave out Deion Sanders-esque sunglasses to the first 500 students on Sunday ngiht.
Ohio State (7-1, 1-0) has a quick turnaround as in-state foe Miami (OH) travels to Columbus Wednesday night. The Redhawks (4-3) are the No. 249 team in the nation, and recently won on the road at Marshall. Miami was picked to finish sixth in the MAC this season.
Ohio State’s game against Miami tips off at 7:00 p.m. and will be broadcast on BTN+.