Ohio State led by as many as 17 points vs. Minnesota on Wednesday night at Value City Arena but let the Gophers ultimately come within two late in the game.
Trevor Thompson refused to let the Buckeyes (13-8, 3-5 Big Ten) lose, though. In addition to scoring a career-high 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season, the junior center blocked two of Minnesota’s shots in the final 20 seconds to preserve the victory.
“Our game plan was to get the ball in, but I only had one word for my mind-set, and that was win," said Thompson, whose previous career best for points was 17 vs. Connecticut on Dec. 10. "I just want to win. That’s all I was thinking about, I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular. My teammates did a good job of finding me and screening. They did a hell of a job screening so I’m definitely thankful for that.”
The Buckeyes trailed, 6-4, early but went on a 14-2 run to build an 18-8 lead at the 13:39 mark of the first half. Thompson was responsible for six points during the streak, which was started by a dunk from him. Marc Loving capped the spurt with a three.
Minnesota (15-6, 3-5) answered with five quick points – a trey from Eric Curry and a jumper from Dupree McBrayer – to trim Ohio State’s lead to 18-13 with 12:03 left in the frame.
OSU then outscored the Golden Gophers, 22-10, across the next eight-plus minutes to lead, 40-23, at the 3:11 mark of the first period. A half dozen Buckeyes contributed during that stretch. JaQuan Lyle hit two triples in that span. His second three put Ohio State up by 17, its largest advantage of the game.
“Obviously, digging ourselves a hole, 17 points, really hurt us," Gopher coach Richard Pitino said after the game. "We showed great fight to come back."
Minnesota responded, however, and closed the first half on a 12-0 run to make it a 40-35 Ohio State lead at halftime. Half of those points scored by the Gophers came from within the paint while fastbreaks set up a pair of three-point field goals. Akeem Springs hit one and Nate Mason had the other.
Ohio State missed all five of its shots in the final three minutes of the opening period, but was a perfect 9 of 9 from the foul line in the 17 minutes before that. Minnesota, meanwhile, made 5 of 7 foul shots (71.4 percent) in the first half.
"At halftime, I just went in and tried to calm them down," OSU head coach Thad Matta said. "I said, ‘Look, this is our (five-point lead) here. We’ve shown we can play some good basketball. I thought our offensive execution – as long as we’re doing that we’re in good shape.’ Fortunately, we made the plays we had to make down the stretch."
Following the intermission, the two teams traded baskets for most of the first 10 minutes of the second half, with Ohio State’s lead fluctuating between four and eight points. From there, the Buckeyes managed to expand their margin to as many as 10 on three different occasions.
Minnesota did not shy away though, and went on a 10-2 run in two-plus minutes to pull within two of OSU. Mason’s three with 4:20 left made it a 68-66 game in favor of the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s lead grew to four via two free throws from Loving, but Mason answered with a pair of his own foul shots to make it a two-point game again with 2:13 left in the contest.
"He was terrific, he fought, played a lot of minutes (35), made big shots, made big plays," Pitino said of Mason. "I think when he’s playing like that he’s one of the best guards in the conference."
Kam Williams made a swooping shot while gliding through the lane to give OSU a 72-68 lead at the 1:44 mark. After a free throw from Reggie Lynch, Loving came back with a critical trey to put Ohio State on top, 75-69, with just less than a minute remaining in regulation.
“I’m going to keep it honest, I really don’t know (what I was thinking) before the shot," Loving said of his pivotal triple. "I just ended up with the ball and shot it and it just happened to go in.”
Springs cut the Buckeyes’ lead in half with a three of his own moments later, but Thompson’s blocks coupled with two free throws from Lyle and another from Thompson sealed the victory for Ohio State.
“It’s definitely frustrating when we blew a 17-point lead but we’ve been in similar situations throughout the season and we realize that this is Big Ten basketball and it’s a grind," Thompson said. "The biggest thing is just embracing the fight and embracing the flow of the game and stuff like that. We just realized that we were going to have to compete and play harder. Marc said at one time, ‘They’re getting every 50-50 ball, and we got to play harder than them.’ That really helped us out a lot.”
Like Thompson, Loving had 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Lyle added 11 points while going 3 of 5 from long range, and Jae'Sean Tate contributed 10 in addition to grabbing seven boards.
Mason had a game-high 21 points, making 7 of 18 shots from the floor. Springs was next in line for the Golden Gophers with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Amir Coffey poured in 11 points and Lynch added 10.
The Gophers had 12 fastbreak points compared to Ohio State's three. For the game, the Buckeyes made 23 of 30 foul shots (76.7 percent). The Gophers made 14-20 freebies (70.0 percent).
The Buckeyes now hit the road to face Iowa (11-10, 3-5) on Saturday night.
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