Tournament Hopes Dim Further With Loss

Ohio State headed into Saturday afternoon's game with Minnesota fighting both to keep hold of the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten and to stay in the running for an NCAA tournament bid. However, fired-up senior Lawrence McKenzie's big second half helped sink the Buckeyes on both counts.

Fighting for their very tournament lives, the Ohio State Buckeyes absolutely, positively needed to defeat the Minnesota Golden Gophers on the road Saturday afternoon.

Instead, the Buckeyes might have punched their ticket to the NIT postseason tournament with a 71-57 loss.

After going 0 for 4 from the floor in the first half, Minnesota senior Lawrence McKenzie had a second half benefiting his final home game at the arena dubbed "The Barn." With the score knotted at 26 early in the second half, McKenzie connected on a three-pointer to give his team the lead. The two teams traded points until another trey by McKenzie pushed the lead to six points.

McKenzie's baskets sparked a 12-5 run, putting Minnesota ahead 36-28. That eight-point deficit might have well have been 80 points as the Buckeyes struggled to score.

OSU (17-12, 8-8 Big Ten) never led in the second half and trailed by as many as 14 points at one point when a floater by McKenzie capped a 14-5 run and put the Gophers (18-10, 8-8) ahead, 56-42.

From there, it seemed only a matter of time until the Buckeyes suffered their fourth consecutive Big Ten loss. OSU has now dropped four consecutive conference games and six of their last eight.

McKenzie finished with 20 second-half points to spur the Gophers. OSU was led by freshman center Kosta Koufos and senior guard Jamar Butler, who had 17 and 13 points, respectively.

The Gophers were aided by their presence on the glass. Minnesota handled OSU in the rebounding category by a 37-24 margin.

A first half that was largely anemic on both sides ended with a one-point Minnesota lead following a tumultuous final minute.

Following a miss by guard Blake Hoffarber with the shot clock winding down, guard Lawrence Westbrook grabbed an offensive rebound and was promptly fouled trying to get off a quick shot with seven seconds remaining. He connected on both free throws, giving the host team a 24-22 lead.

OSU pushed the ball upcourt and was forced to settle for a contested trey attempted by sophomore swingman David Lighty. The shot went long and banked off the backboard until freshman guard Jon Diebler corralled the offensive rebound. Diebler's last-second shot attempt drew a foul, and he went to the line with no time remaining.

The freshman missed the first free throw but connected on the second with the arena loudly booing, helping set the score at 24-23.

The first 20 minutes saw five ties and eight lead changes as both teams struggled to get much going offensively. Butler had six of the team's first eight points but went 0 for 2 and committed two turnovers the rest of the way.

Minnesota entered the game averaging 14.5 turnovers per game and committed 11 in the first half alone, leading to 11 Buckeye points. In the second half, though, the Gophers committed just three turnovers as they pulled away from OSU.

With the loss, Minnesota pulls even with the Buckeyes for the fifth spot in the conference with two games remaining. An OSU victory would have clinched the fifth seed and a bye in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

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