After the Buckeyes had won their last four Big Ten road contests by a combined 15 points and needed second-half rallies in each of them, they took the Golden Gophers out of the game early and cruised to an 82-69 victory.
This one was supposed to be more of the same for a number of reasons. The road wins against Iowa, Michigan, Illinois and Northwestern came against teams at .500 or worse in conference play. The Golden Gophers, however, entered the day 5-5 in the conference but mired in a two-game losing streak.
In addition, the last time the Buckeyes had won at Williams Arena, David Lighty was a freshman. On this afternoon, the fifth-year senior led the way by getting to the basket early and often, finishing with a game-high 19 points.
Matched up against bigger players on defense, the 6-5, 220-pound Lighty took advantage of the mismatches. He also added four assists, three rebounds and two steals while committing just one turnover in 37 minutes of action.
Minnesota (16-7, 5-6 Big Ten) overcame a second-half stretch where it committed turnovers on five of six possessions and still managed to cut OSU's lead to 10 points, 51-41, with 12:28 remaining. From there, however, the Buckeyes (24-0, 11-0) put together a 14-5 run to increase their lead to 65-46 and the rest of the contest was largely academic.
All five OSU starters scored in double digits. Freshman forward Jared Sullinger had 18 points and 13 boards while junior guard William Buford had 15 points and seniors Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale each had 10 points.
With the win, OSU has now won 18 straight conference games and 12 straight road Big Ten games.
In a victory against the Buckeyes on his home court one season ago, Minnesota's Blake Hoffarber connected on 7 of 9 three-pointers to finish with 27 points. With point guard Al Nolen on the bench due to injury, Hoffarber again led his team in scoring but was unable to get untracked. The senior had 16 points on 5 of 12 shooting including a 4-for-9 performance from beyond the arc.
The Gophers have tried a number of different ways to compensate for the loss of Nolen, which made OSU's preparation for them difficult.
"It makes them different," OSU assistant coach Brandon Miller told The Ohio State Basketball Radio Network. "They have played so few games without Al Nolen. They're trying different things so you had to prepare knowing they could try a few different things. There were multiple things that went into (our) preparation."
The Buckeyes seized control of the first half near the midway mark. After a three-pointer from Hoffarber that came from several feet behind the arc made it an 18-16 OSU lead, the visitors put together a 10-0 run to make it 28-16 with 8:28 remaining.
Buford got it started, answering Hoffarber's three-pointer with a deep jumper of his own inside the arc. After a Minnesota miss, Buford drilled a three-pointer from straight on for a personal 5-0 run.
The Golden Gophers would turn the ball over on their two ensuing possessions. At the other end, the Buckeyes turned them into a fast-break bucket by freshman forward Jared Sullinger and a three-pointer from Lighty to complete the run.
From there, the home team drew no closer than six points during the rest of the half.
The Buckeyes got their first-half scoring from their backcourt. Lighty led the way with 13 points on 6 of 8 shooting while Buford had eight and Diebler added seven. As a team, OSU was 5 of 11 (45.5 percent) from three-point range in the first half compared to 2 for 7 (28.6 percent) for Minnesota.
Their success came with the Gophers focused inside on Sullinger, who had six first-half points on 3 of 9 shooting. He also had eight rebounds, helping OSU earn a 23-15 advantage on the boards. Eleven of those rebounds came on the offensive end of the court.
The result was a 38-30 lead at the break for the Buckeyes, who got a basket from freshman Deshaun Thomas with 38.1 seconds remaining to set the score.
The Gophers got the first basket of the second half to cut the lead to six, but the Buckeyes countered with the lightly used Lauderdale. After going scoreless in the first half, the big man scored eight of his team's first 10 second-half points thanks to being in the right position at the right time.
Lauderdale connected on a tip of a Sullinger miss, a dunk, a slam off an inbounds play and a nice cross-post feed from Sullinger. He added another dunk later to get to 10 points after entering the game averaging 4.4 points per contest.
"Dallas was terrific," Miller said. "We went on runs and you know how it is when you start the game; you always want to have a good start. I thought Dallas led the way on both ends of the floor. He was really active on the glass today. Any time he can catch the ball around the basket, he can really finish."
The Buckeyes are off until Saturday when they take their undefeated record to No. 19 Wisconsin.