Facing a Minnesota squad that had managed to pull within two points after trailing by as many as 16 in the first half, Ohio State found itself in need of a spark. Leading 46-42, senior guard Jamar Butler rolled to his right from the top of the circle and lobbed a pass to the far side of the backboard.
There, a streaking Terwilliger soared above two Minnesota defenders and slammed the alley-oop home, sending the announced crowd of 19,049 into a frenzy and helping propel the Buckeyes to a 76-60 victory.
Minnesota (12-6, 2-4 Big Ten) would not go away, but Terwilliger's dunk helped spark an 8-0 run that saw the Buckeyes (14-6, 5-2) playing arguably their most passionate basketball of the season.
There was freshman center Kosta Koufos was firing up the student section, imploring them to cheer louder. Classmate Jon Diebler was racing downcourt for a dunk after a Terwilliger steal. Fellow freshman guard Evan Turner was doing the same after an outlet pass from Diebler.
Mix in two free throws from Butler thanks to a technical foul called on Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith and it added up to a 12-point OSU lead with eight minutes and change remaining. From there, the Golden Gophers would continue to fight but could not manage to pull closer than seven points.
"I think we just fed off the crowd," Butler said. "The crowd was great tonight and they gave us a lot of juice and energy.
It did not look like the game would even be in question for much of the first half, when cold shooting and sloppy play with the ball early in the game were the only things from preventing the Buckeyes from making it a blowout of epic proportions. A deep jumper by Terwilliger made it 19-3 Buckeyes with 10:33 remaining in the first half.
At that point, Minnesota was 1 for 13 from the floor and had turned the ball over three times. It had taken the Gophers until their 15th possession to grab an offensive rebound, but they made up for that drought by nabbing three on one possession – and still did not score.
Holding a 16-point lead, the Buckeyes looked especially dominant on defense. Minnesota found itself unable to solve OSU's 3-2 zone defense and frequently found itself settling for contested jumpers taken with the shot clock winding down. OSU opened the game with an 11-0 run that saw the visitors turn the ball over once, have two shots blocked and another highly contested and take two shots with the shot clock below five seconds.
"We broke down their defense and got it inside and tried to shoot over guys instead of trying to pass it," Smith said. "You've got to pass it. You can't try to throw up a wicked shot. We don't work on that. I don't know where those shots came from."
The Buckeyes, in contrast, had Turner, who hit two treys and another pull-up jumper to account for eight of the team's first 11 points.
But from there, the Gophers outscored OSU by a 22-16 margin to close the half down 10, 35-25. According to OSU's leading scorer, it was a case of something the Buckeyes were not doing rather than something extra the Gophers were doing.
"They really didn't change anything," Butler said. "We took our foot off the pedal and relaxed on defense."
After OSU enjoyed a 10-1 advantage on the boards early, Minnesota came alive on the glass and finished the first half with just one less board than the Buckeyes, 19-18. The Buckeyes would post a 38-34 rebounding advantage for the game.
Terwilliger was all over the court for the Buckeyes in the second half during the game-changing run. After his dunk, Minnesota's Al Nolen was whistled for traveling as the crowd continued to roar. Diebler missed a quick trey on the next possession, but Terwilliger found himself in the center of controversy.
Minnesota's Travis Busch came up with the long rebound near the baseline, and Terwilliger appeared to push him as he corralled the ball. Busch was promptly whistled for a traveling violation, incensing Smith at the opposite corner of the court. Butler then hit the ensuing free throws to make it 50-42.
But after Butler missed a trey on the ensuing possession, Terwilliger came up with a steal and helped spark a fast break that was capped by a Diebler dunk. Diebler then stole the ball from Nolen and pushed it up the court to Turner, whose dunk made it 54-42 OSU and forced Smith to call a timeout to stem the bleeding.
Although Butler – whose consecutive made free-throw streak was snapped at 38 – finished with 27 points and nine assists, the consensus among the Buckeyes was that it was the play of Terwilliger and Diebler that helped spark OSU to its second consecutive victory.
"I think that's pretty adequate what they said," OSU head coach Thad Matta said of the praise his players had for Diebler and Terwilliger. "Jon got going in the second half. I thought those guys came in and gave us a spark that we needed, and that's what this team needs. I don't care who it is; somebody giving us some type of a boost when they come in."
Turner finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, while Koufos added 15 and eight, respectively. Minnesota was led by forward Dan Coleman's 14 points, while guard Lawrence McKenzie added 10.