Prior to Ohio State’s Big Ten opener with Minnesota, Thad Matta said he felt his team had grown in the nonconference, learned how to respond to adversity.
Against the Gophers, the Buckeyes proved him right.
After jumping out to an early lead, the Buckeyes (9-5, 1-0) allowed Minnesota to battle back in the second half, keeping things close over the first seven minutes of the second stanza. Then Ohio State slammed the door with a dominating 23-5 run that turned a two-point lead into a commanding 19-point advantage on its way to a 78-63 win.
“I think we’ve gotten past that. If this was a month ago I think we would have panicked a little bit and probably would have lost the game,” JaQuan Lyle said. “Tonight we kept our composure and stayed the course.”
The Gophers (6-7, 0-1) took their first lead of the night on their second possession of the second half and while the Buckeyes battled back, Minnesota was still within one at 45-44 with 13:24 remaining. That’s when Ohio State went to work.
The big second-half run was driven by ball movement, specifically the passing prowess of point guard JaQuan Lyle. Playing in his first Big Ten game, the freshman started the run with a dish to Kam Williams for a three. Lyle went on to assist on the next five Ohio State baskets, finding Dave Bell inside twice, Keita Bates-Diop once and Williams for another jumper.
The freshman finished his night with 13 helpers, shattering his previous career-high of eight, and four points in his conference debut. With a bit of unselfishness reminiscent of his night on the court, Lyle praised his teammates for his big night.
"I think it was just guys knocking down shots," he said. "For me personally it was just sitting down and digesting film, talking to guys and seeing where they like to get the ball at. Tonight Marc (Loving) hit a lot of shots, Kam hit a lot of shots, the bigs caught the ball and finished. I think it just came from guys making plays."
The run continued as a three-point play from Loving was sandwiched by a pair of assisted baskets by Trevor Thompson. Loving then capped the run with a three to push the advantage to 68-49 with 6:00 remaining, allowing the Buckeyes to cost to their conference win.
In total the Buckeyes assisted on 24 of their 29 made field goals in the win.
Loving led the Buckeyes in scoring with 20 while Bates-Diop added 14. Jae’Sean Tate was also in double figures with 10 while Daniel Giddens added nine off the bench, part of a dominating 42-26 advantage for Ohio State in the paint. In total, 10 Buckeyes scored in the win.
Ohio State started hot, scoring the game’s first 11 points
The game-starting run, one that bucked a recent trend of slow starts for Matta’s bunch, featured a pair of layups from Tate and one from Bates-Diop. Loving scored five points on the spurt, two from the line and three from behind the arc.
Ohio State scored on its first four possessions and assisted on its first three baskets of the night.
The Buckeyes’ first-half advantage would swell to as many as 15 as a Bates-Diop three and Trevor Thompson free throws pushed the lead to that many for the first time at 24-9 9:03 into the game.
After the teams traded baskets, however, Minnesota began to chip away.
Free throws from Joey King started a 9-0 Gophers run that was aided by sloppy play from the Buckeyes. Following King’s free throws Tate threw the inbounds pass directly to Carlos Morris, who connected on an easy layup. Following a charge call on Loving, Morris nailed a three which the Gophers followed with a transition dunk to pull within 26-20 at the 7:12 mark.
The Buckeyes turned the ball over four times on the Gophers run after having just two in the game’s first 9:31.
"Give Minnesota credit, Richard (Pitino) called the timeout and made some adjustments and they hit some threes," Matta said. "Our transition defense really struggled there late in the first half and then we fouled too much."
Loving snapped a 3:28 scoring drought for Ohio State with 6:21 until the half and the Buckeyes would push the lead back to double figures on a layup from Daniel Giddens that made it 34-24 with 2:40 left. The center followed with a thunderous two-handed dunk in transition.
Minnesota closed the half on a 10-1 run to pull within three, 37-34, at the break. The Gophers run, which featured a pair of threes and four points at the free throw line, shrunk the Buckeyes lead to single digits for the first time since they lead 2-0.
The Gophers hit a three on the opening possession of the first half before Jordan Murphy free throws gave them their first lead and set up the Buckeyes big run.