Minnesota was doing everything it could to deny David Lighty a record-breaking victory and the fifth-year senior was powerless to do anything about it.
After picking up his fifth foul with 2:30 remaining in the contest, the fifth-year senior could only watch as Ohio State hung on for a 67-64 victory. With the win, Lighty became the program’s all-time leader in career wins with 111.
He almost found himself waiting until a Wednesday night road contest with Michigan for the next chance at the mark, however. After increasing their lead to 18 points at 55-37 with 8:31 remaining, the Buckeyes (16-0, 3-0 Big Ten) then found themselves one shot away from going to overtime against the Golden Gophers (12-4, 1-3).
With the score set at the eventual final outcome and the Buckeyes holding possession, Minnesota seized the opportunity to foul Dallas Lauderdale, a 33.3 percent free-throw shooter entering the contest. The OSU senior followed the script and missed both attempts, allowing the visitors to take over with 28.5 seconds left.
Minnesota’s Al Nolen had his shot attempt partially blocked by OSU’s Jared Sullinger seven seconds later and Lauderdale came up with the rebound, but his attempt to outlet the ball to a teammate on the wing was intercepted by Minnesota’s Austin Hollins, who then missed a layup attempt but came up with his own rebound.
After calling timeout with 15.1 seconds remaining, the Gophers inbounded the ball to guard Austin Hollins at the top of the circle with the crowd of 17,392 roaring. Dribbling the ball, he attempted to find Blake Hoffarber – known OSU nemesis and prolific three-point sniper.
Instead, OSU senior guard Jon Diebler trailed him through two screens and got an assist from Lauderdale in denying him the ball. Finding no other options, Hollins launched his shot attempt with one second remaining and had it partially blocked by OSU junior guard William Buford.
“Coach Matta knew they were going to try to get Hoffarber the ball,” Sullinger said. “We knew he was going to come off two screens. We said whoever was on the top sell out and make somebody else make a three. Dallas did that and it really just discombobulated them.”
A visibly irritated Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith saw it differently.
“The ball was supposed to go in the basket, but it was a foul,” he said. “I didn’t make the call (but) that’s my opinion.”
He was not the only coach unhappy with how the game was whistled. After the game, OSU head coach Thad Matta said the momentum had shifted after a few key plays.
Asked which plays they were, he replied, “I don’t think I can say what they are.”
In all, the two teams were whistled for a combined 42 fouls – 22 on the Gophers, 20 on the Buckeyes. Minnesota went 24 for 27 from the charity stripe while OSU was 15 of 23.
Either way, it was Lighty who found himself accepting the game ball from Matta, who waxed poetic about the impact the fifth-year senior has made on the program and described it as an emotional moment.
“I think David has never probably gotten the respect (from others) that I have for him in my eyes with what he’s meant to this basketball program,” the coach said.
Said Lighty, who added that the coach handing out a game ball is a rarity: “I got 111 wins so he gave me the game ball.”
As for watching from the bench for the final 150 seconds, Lighty described it as the most nervous he has been during his OSU career.
“That’s the worst feeling I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Lighty said. “I’ve got to find ways to stay in the game. It’s really not about what I think. The ref has the final decision he blew the whistle. All I can do is ask what I did wrong and what I can do to correct it.”
After Minnesota pulled within eight points with 11:22 remaining thanks to a 7-0 run, the Buckeyes connected on four of their next five three-pointers to balloon the lead back to 18 points at 55-37 with 8:31 left. The final two treys were delivered courtesy of Lighty.
From there, the Gophers outscored OSU 27-12 the rest of the way.
The Buckeyes closed the first half on a 15-6 run that was keyed by their defense more than anything else. Leading 17-16, OSU snapped a 5-0 Minnesota run when Lighty knifed in along the right baseline for a basket to push the lead up to three points with 8:15 remaining.
On the ensuing possession, Minnesota turned the ball over – establishing a pattern that would continue throughout the next several minutes. On their next six possessions, the Golden Gophers turned the ball over five times: two three-second violations, two shot-clock violations and one old-fashioned turnover. The only exception was a deep jumper from forward Ralph Sampson III that calmly swished through the net as the buzzer sounded.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes pulled away thanks to a balanced scoring attack with a different player accounting for one of the final five baskets of the half. Leading the way for the stanza was Lighty, who was the only scorer in double digits with 13.
He finished with a game-high 19 points while Sullinger added eighth career double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds.