Ohio State went into Williams Arena and defeated Minnesota 70-59 for its second consecutive Big Ten road win on Wednesday.
In what was the best game of the season from the backcourt, Tony Stockman had 21 points and four steals to lead the Buckeyes (13-13, 5-8). He was joined in double figures by J. J. Sullinger and Brandon Fuss-Cheatham, who had 15 and 12 points respectively.
"I think we would be making a huge mistake if we didn't acknowledge how our guards played in this game," OSU coach Jim O'Brien told WBNS radio. "How about the turn of events? Last time Velimir (Radinovic) and Terence (Dials) get all the points and our guards struggle, and now all three of our guards are in double figures and all three of them played very well."
Minnesota freshman Kris Humphries had a quiet 17 points and 10 rebounds. He averages 22.2 points, 10.1 boards and leads the conference in both categories.
"Just like the last time we played them in Columbus, I think Terence and Velimir, just their size, maybe bothered him a little bit," O'Brien said. "Maybe made him shoot the ball a little higher. I don't think anybody can really, really contain him, but we thought maybe the size would make his shots not be as easy."
Humphries was just 4 of 18 from the floor.
As they often do at home, the last-place Golden Gophers (10-16, 2-12) started the game on fire and led 10-0 three minutes into the first half. Defensively, they were clamping down on the Buckeyes' post players, double-teaming every time the ball reached the interior.
"You aren't going to watch our film against Indiana and not double the post," O'Brien said.
Sullinger knocked down a 3-pointer to finally get the Bucks on the board 10-3 at the 16:15 mark.
Minnesota continued to hold a solid advantage for most of the half, with the Buckeyes unable to get closer than seven points. The Gophers led 16-8 at the 11:51 mark, 22-15 at the 7:12 timeout, and 28-19 with 3:40 left in the half.
Right there is when the game changed in favor of the Buckeyes. Who knows what O'Brien said during the timeout (his voice seems 100 percent by the way), but there was about to be a big momentum shift.
Ricardo Billings and Stockman each scored five points in the last three minutes of the half and suddenly OSU trailed by just one, 30-29, heading into halftime.
The Bucks took their first lead of the game, 35-33, at the 15:02 mark of the second half on a pair of free throws from Sullinger.
Ohio State would lead the rest of the way.
Fuss-Cheatham knocked down a 3-pointer at the 13:52 mark for a 40-33 OSU advantage. A few possessions later, Radinovic knocked down two free throws, pushing the Buckeye lead to 44-35 with 11:30 left.
The Gophers had one more chance to get back in the game after cutting the lead to 44-38 with 10:06 left in the game on a bucket from Humphries.
However, a putback from OSU's Shun Jenkins, followed by a steal and breakaway layup from Stockman, gave the Bucks a 48-38 lead with 9:02 remaining.
The Buckeyes led by double-digits the rest of the game, cruising to a season-sweep over the Gophers.
"This is a good win for us, especially when you consider how the game started," O'Brien said. "Minnesota has a history of getting out of the blocks real, real early. As good a team as Michigan State is, they had Michigan State down 20 in the first half. They eventually end up losing the game, but it's not unlike them to get off to a real good start and they certainly did that us.
"We got a little scattery against their zone and they made a bunch of shots. But for the most part, we guarded them pretty well and we were pretty efficient in how we ended up playing, I would say the last 30 minutes of the game."
Once again, O'Brien did a good job mixing up his defenses, switching from man to zone, and using several different zones. The Gophers seemed to become more frustrated with each passing moment; Humphries was clearly out of his game.
"The thing that seems to jump out at us, loud and clear, is that I don't think we can stay in any one defense too long," O'Brien said. "So, I think the changing, again, was really helpful to us."
Offensively, you can call it a breakout game for the backcourt. It was the first time that starters Stockman, Sullinger and Fuss-Cheatham all played well in the same game.
The OSU frontcourt – clearly the strength of the team this season – struggled much of the night. It was Minnesota's clear goal to take away the post. They trapped for the entire game.
"We thought they might double the post, but we thought we were prepared for that," O'Brien said. "They did a very good job of taking our big guys out."
Radinovic and Dials each had six points. Dials led OSU with nine rebounds.
GAME NOTES: The Buckeyes had a rare hot-shooting night from the free throw line. knocking down 19 of 23. … They were also red-hot from 3-point range, making 7 of 14. … Ohio State had nine steals; Minnesota had seven steals. … The Gophers won the rebounding battle 32-30. … OSU freshman forward Ivan Harris did not play, a game after starting the Indiana contest. … Billings and Jenkins had solid games off the bench with five points apiece. … Fuss-Cheatham's jumper is getting better and better. … Ohio State gets back in action Sunday at noon at Michigan (15-9, 6-7).