That is probably a pretty good assessment of the Ohio State men's basketball team which enjoyed the lead for more than 38 minutes of Saturday's game against Minnesota. But that lead was only a comfortable one for just the last couple of minutes.
Senior guard Je'Kel Foster knocked down 7 of 8 three-point shots and scored 25 points as the 20th-ranked Buckeyes upended Minnesota 67-53 before 17,736 Saturday at Value City Arena.
"I thought that was a very good win for us today," said OSU coach Thad Matta, whose team improved to 16-3 overall and 5-3 in Big Ten play and avenged a pair of losses to Minnesota a year ago.
"I thought this game was a carbon copy of the two games we played last year. I think we have grown to make some plays and guard in some tough situations."
Foster connected on 8 of 10 shots from the floor and both of his free throws. He came within three points of his career high of 28 points, set in the win at Iowa State earlier this year.
"Je'Kel Foster had an incredible game," Matta said. "Our guys did a great job of finding him. We did a good job of moving the basketball. For him to go 7 of 8 on threes, that is a tremendous effort."
Foster was OSU's leading scorer prior to Big Ten play at 16.6 points per game. But he had reached double figures just three times in seven previous conference games and was averaging 10 points in Big Ten play. He scored 18 points in Monday's nonconference win over Florida A&M, setting the stage for his torrid day against Minnesota.
"It felt real good to get back to the stroke," Foster said. "The coaches did a great job of letting me get extra shots. I credit my teammates as well. They did a good job of getting me the ball. I just tried to take my time and knock my shots down.
"Coach Matta is a very positive guy. He just told me to keep shooting with confidence."
Terence Dials chipped in 15 points, nine rebounds, two blocks and two steals for the Buckeyes.
"The type of ball they play, they hang their hat on being physical," said Dials, who was 6 of 11 from the floor. "They need those type of plays to win the game. They are not a great offensive team. They try to outhustle you and get loose balls and crash the offensive glass."
Jamar Butler added 10 points and three assists, while J.J. Sullinger had seven points and eight rebounds.
"We just wanted to match their toughness," Sullinger said. "For the most part, I think we did all right."
OSU ended up shooting 54.3 percent (25 of 46) from the floor, including 45 percent (9 of 20) on three-pointers. The shooting allowed OSU to overcome 14 turnovers, while the Buckeyes forced 18 Minnesota turnovers.
Minnesota (10-9, 1-7) was led by Jamal Abu-Shamala, who had 16 points. Adam Boone chipped in 10 points. Guard Vincent Grier, who averaged 15.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game coming in, finished with nine points and seven rebounds. He was 4 of 11 from the floor.
"It is disappointing that at the halfway point we're 1-7 in the Big Ten," UM coach Dan Monson said. "We've got to go on the road and dig some games out. In certain areas, we gave ourselves opportunities. But the area we said we had to control, we didn't. That was taking away the three-point shot.
"We knew that Dials would be a handful. But we've got to be able to dictate threes. We were trading threes for twos. They're a very tough team to guard when they get into an offensive flow."
Foster connected on 4 of 5 three-pointers in the first half for 12 points as the Buckeyes led 33-28 at the intermission.
Foster got off to a big start, hitting three treys in the first five minutes as the Buckeyes built a quick 11-4 lead.
Abu-Shamala helped bring the Gophers back as he hit a three-pointer, a 17-foot jumper and another three to cut it to 21-17 with 7:45 left in the half.
Minnesota pulled within two on two free throws by Boone, that cut it to 28-26 with 2:05 left.
Butler answered at the other end on a lob pass from Foster. UM's Dan Coleman then hit a hook shot with 1:03 left, but Butler's three-pointer from the top with 29 seconds left pushed it to 33-28 at the break.
UM's J'son Stamper made a pair of baseline jumpers to open the half and cut the OSU lead to 33-32 with 18:33 left.
But Dials went to work. He made 1 of 2 free throws, scored off a lob from Matt Sylvester and scored again off a feed by Sylvester to make it 38-32 with 16:57 left. Foster then swished a three from the top for a 41-32 advantage with 15:37 left.
Boone drilled a pair of three-pointers and Grier canned a baseline jumper to cut it to 43-40 with 13:04 left. But OSU went on an 11-4 run to extend the lead to double digits. Butler started it with a layup. Grier then had a rebound basket for the Gophers. Lewis answered with an 18-foot jumper, Sullinger stole the ball from Stamper and laid it in, Foster made a three and, after Grier hit a jumper in the lane for UM, Foster tallied on a reverse for a 54-44 lead with 8:44 left.<.p>
OSU extended the lead out to 11 at 60-49 after Dials tipped in a miss and Sylvester hit a jumper in the lane with 4:10 left.
The Gophers made a small run as Rico Tucker stole an OSU pass in the backcourt and fed Maurice Hargrow for a layup that cut it to 60-53 with 2:15 left. The teams then traded turnovers before Sylvester broke the press and fed Dials for a two-handed dunk with 1:56 left. Then, after a UM miss, Butler found Foster for his seventh trey and a 65-53 lead with 1:18 left. Foster's two free throws with 50.4 seconds left capped the scoring.
And the Buckeyes could finally breathe easy.
"This conference is good from top to bottom," Dials said. "I'm sure they had a lot of confidence coming in. They had beaten us twice last year. That was definitely something Coach talked about all week."
Sylvester added six points and five assists. Ivan Harris and Ron Lewis each had two points for OSU.
* The Buckeyes are now 27-3 overall at home under Matta. In his six-year head coaching career, Matta's teams are now 80-9 on their home court.
* Matta's record as a head coach in February improved to 30-7.
* OSU is now 103-23 in eight seasons at VCA, including 12-1 this season and 43-17 in Big Ten play.
* Ohio State has won nine of the last 12 meetings with Minnesota despite being swept in last year's two-game series – 60-56 in overtime at Columbus and 52-50 at Minneapolis.
* OSU is 6-1 against Minnesota in VCA.
* The crowd total was the second largest in VCA this year, trailing only the sellout of 18,500 for the Michigan State game Jan. 15.
* Dials is now in 21st place on OSU's all-time scoring list with 1,347 career points. Next up is Brent Darby, who had 1,368 points between 2000-03. Dials is also eighth in career rebounding with 757.
* Ohio State visits Michigan (16-4, 6-3) at 7 p.m. Thursday (ESPN). The Wolverines, ranked 21st this week, fell 94-66 at Iowa on Saturday.
OSU is 4-2 on the road overall and 2-2 away from home in Big Ten play this year.
"We need to stick together as a team," Dials said. "We know our next couple of road games will be tough. Michigan is playing well. They are finally back up in the top 25. That lets you know how well they're playing. We definitely know it will not be the Michigan team that came here last year (and lost 72-46).
"We will have to be ready to play and I know Coach Matta will have us ready to play."