On a day when his 1960 national championship team was honored at Value City Arena and his name placed among the rafters, the late Ohio State men's basketball coach who preached getting maximum effort from each player would have likely enjoyed the current team's 85-63 victory against Minnesota.
The Buckeyes (16-6, 6-3 Big Ten) had three starters score at least 19 points during a game in which they flirted for the first 32 minutes with breaking the conference record for field-goal percentage in a league game. They would settle for 63.0 percent – 34 for 54 – en route to their fifth straight conference victory.
The performance came during a weekend where the university's lone national championship squad that included Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek and Bob Knight returned to campus and was honored at halftime. Before the game, each player talked about how that year's championship team was a team in every sense of the word.
This year's team came out and demonstrated that as well on this afternoon, using superior ball movement and tough defense to carve out a victory.
The Gophers (13-8, 4-5) entered the game second in the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio at plus-4.55, but they did not play like it. Minnesota committed 17 turnovers compared to 12 for the Buckeyes, and the home team converted those miscues into 24 points.
"If we didn't know they were watching, we were blind," Turner said of the 1960 squad. "I'm sure everybody could feel the presence of them. It was a big day and it was huge."
One game after having his streak of consecutive games with at least one three-pointer snapped at 30, Diebler went 5 for 9 from behind the arc. It was the most he hit in one game since a Jan. 6 victory against Indiana.
"I thought Jon had great energy and had great legs on his shot and took good ones," OSU head coach Thad Matta said.
Holding a 14-point advantage at the break, OSU increased its lead to 16 on a tip-in by sophomore guard William Buford. Minnesota countered with consecutive baskets to cut the deficit to 12 points, but it was then that OSU would deliver the back breaker.
Or, more specifically, the back breakers. First was an alley-oop dunk from Turner to junior center Dallas Lauderdale. Next came a three-pointer from Buford who was left wide open in the right corner. The final blow came courtesy of all three players.
On the defensive end, Lauderdale rejected a shot attempt by Blake Hoffarber, starting a fast break the other way. With Buford pushing the ball up the right side of the court, he spied Turner streaking in from the left and tossed the ball toward the hoop.
Turner corralled it in the air and fell just short of dunking it, instead laying it in to cap a 7-0 run that made it 58-39 in favor of the home team with 17:05 left in the game.
"Transition is always fun, doing what we like to do," Buford said. "We had a lot of open looks and lot of (alley-oops) and it was fun."
Minnesota would answer on its ensuing possession after head coach Tubby Smith called a timeout, but Buford hit a three-pointer at the 15:36 mark that pushed the OSU lead to 20 points. After the Buford trey, the Buckeyes were shooting 75.0 percent from the field (24 for 32).
The visitors would get no closer from there until 3:39 remained when they cut the deficit to 18 points, and the only question remaining was whether or not the Buckeyes would eclipse 100 points. The majority of the second half resembled a live highlight reel as OSU threw down alley-oop dunk after alley-oop dunk, the most impressive of which came on a Buford-to-David Lighty exchange with 13:27 left that made it 68-41 in favor of the Buckeyes.
OSU never trailed in this one, scoring first on a Buford jumper on the game's first possession. Minnesota would knot the score at 6-, 9- and 11-all, but a 12-2 Buckeye run after the score was tied at 11 made it a 23-13 lead with 10:50 remaining.
During that run, Minnesota committed four turnovers that were turned into seven points – a three-point play from Turner, a wide-open jumper by Buford and a jumper by Turner that capped the run.
The Gophers would answer with a 5-0 run to halve the deficit with their second basket of the stretch coming on a lob inside to center Ralph Sampson III. His field goal started a stretch of six consecutive possessions where each team came up with a basket, the end result of which was a 30-22 OSU lead.
"We just didn't give ourselves much of a chance to win today," Smith said. "You've got to play a lot harder and a lot smarter. It was disappointing. A lot of it has to do with Ohio State is a very talented team. They're playing well right now and we're not."
The Buckeyes went through a cold stretch in the final minutes of the game but still outscored Minnesota by a 36-28 margin in the second half. Coming out hot for the final stanza was something Matta preached to his players during the break.
"That was the focus of the halftime, of we've had some situations here (where we didn't play two solid halves)," the coach said. "I challenged the guys to get off to a good start and I thought they did a very good job of that."
With the win, OSU avenges a 73-62 loss suffered Jan. 9 at Minnesota. In that game, Gophers guard Blake Hoffarber led all scorers with 27 points on 7-for-9 shooting from three. This time out, the Buckeyes keyed on him and limited him to 10 points on 2-of-4 shooting from behind the arc.
Minnesota was led by reserve Rodney Williams' 13 points. In the loss, the Gophers still shot 51.0 percent (25 for 49) from the floor.