After a 10-point second-half lead held by the Buckeyes was whittled down to three points in the closing minutes, a change in defense allowed the home team to defeat the No. 19 Golden Gophers by a 64-58 final.
The win gives OSU (17-5, 7-4 Big Ten) its fourth consecutive victory within the conference and its fifth of the season against a ranked opponent. The Buckeyes have now defeated back-to-back ranked foes.
This time, it took head coach Thad Matta switching out of his patented 3-2 match-up zone to bring about a victory. With Minnesota's Blake Hoffarber suddenly on fire from three-point range, the Buckeyes switched to essentially a box-and-one defense with guard Jon Diebler manning up on Hoffarber.
"I wouldn't say we went to a box and one," OSU head coach Thad Matta said. "I said, ‘Whoever has him don't let him catch the ball.' Those guys did a pretty good job of doing that."
After center B.J. Mullens drew a double team and found a wide-open Diebler to make it 46-36 Buckeyes, Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith called a timeout with the announced crowd of 19,049 fans roaring. On the next possession, Hoffarber – who had missed on two first-half treys and hit on one in the second half – immediately connected on a wide-open trey in front of his team's bench immediately after the timeout.
That basket ignited a 16-9 run by the Gophers (18-5, 6-5) that allowed them to pull within three points, 55-52, with 3:46 remaining. All 16 points were scored by Hoffarber, who was 5 for 7 from the line and turned one of those shots into a four-point play.
"It's tough," Diebler said. "I usually run around on offense so I know it's tough, but he's a great shooter and when great shooters get hot and get in the zone it's hard to stop them."
But from then on, he would not get off another shot attempt as Diebler was deployed to deny him the basketball.
"He got hot at the end," Diebler said of Hoffarber. "Coach just told me not to let him catch it, so I just chased him around. I just tried not to let them catch it."
Asked how he felt he did, Diebler said, "I don't know if he caught it. I hope he didn't."
The Buckeyes then closed on a 9-2 run keyed by seven free throws by leading scorer Evan Turner and a dunk by Mullens that followed a Diebler miss. Fighting to the end, Minnesota continued to foul with the final outcome all but determined as the remaining fans booed.
Five Buckeyes scored in double figures, led by Turner's 18. He was just 4 of 14 from the floor but went 10 for 12 from the charity stripe. Afterward, Turner said he was simply tired after playing 39 or more minutes for the seventh straight game.
Guard William Buford and Diebler each added 11, while guard Jeremie Simmons and Mullens each added 10 points. Turner led the way with 10 rebounds for his third consecutive double-double of the season.
As a team, the Buckeyes won this one largely thanks to their defense. OSU forced Minnesota into 17 turnovers and had 11 steals and earned the win despite shooting just 42.3 percent (22 for 52) from the floor.
"Pretty disappointed because some of those were unforced," Smith said. "A few of them were just rushing. That's something we've got to get better at. We've got to take care of the ball better. That cost us down the stretch there."
It marked the first time OSU has shot less than 50.0 percent from the floor and won since a Dec. 20 victory against Iona.
"We're not going to shoot 60 percent a game," Matta said. "We'll take it if we do. We were taking good shots, but some of them just weren't falling for us."
Minnesota was led by Hoffarber's 19 points, while forward Damian Johnson added 12 points and 10 rebounds.
After OSU took one on the chin Jan. 3 at Minnesota in a game in which the Gophers out-toughed the Buckeyes, OSU wasted little time showing who was the boss this time around. On the seventh possession of the game, Turner was tangled with Minnesota's Lawrence Westbrook and players from both teams rushed in to settle the situation.
No fouls were whistled, but Turner said he felt like the much-needed message was delivered.
"It's just something from last game that occurred,' he said. "We had to draw a line and put our foot down that it's going to be an all-out war tonight."
As for earning a fifth win against a ranked opponent this season, Matta said he felt that sends a clear message about what kind of team he is manning this season.
"No. 1, it means we've played a hell of a schedule," he said. "No 2 hopefully it means we're a pretty good basketball team. I think you look at the challenges this team has had, five ranked teams and some of those have been on the road, you hope that it says, ‘Hey these guys are playing some pretty good basketball and a heck of a schedule.' "