When Minnesota cut Ohio State's lead to 7 points early in the second half,
there had to be a feeling, "here we go again." That feeling was short-lived.
Ohio State (24-3, 12-1 Big Ten) extended their lead to a comfortable 25-point
margin before eventually settling for an 85-67 victory in "The Barn" against
Minnesota Sunday afternoon.
Minnesota (9-18, 3-10 Big Ten) had problems dealing with Ohio State's size,
shooting and athleticism. While center Greg Oden scored 19 points, grabbed nine
rebounds and blocked a pair of Golden Gopher shots, the Buckeyes were an
efficient 7-of-16 from 3-point range and scored 14 points off 15 Minnesota
The Buckeyes also took advantage of a familiar face to a newly-designed
Senior Ron Lewis, who had a reputation last year as being Ohio State's sixth
man, came off the bench Sunday in favor of freshman Daequan Cook. Lewis
responded with 16 points and four rebounds on 6-of-12 shooting. Cook also played
well with 8 points and five rebounds.
It was tough sledding in the early-going for the Buckeyes, however. Every
time the Buckeyes made a run, the Golden Gophers countered with a spurt of their
own. Minnesota relied mostly on their leading scorer, Lawrence McKenzie, who had
a game-high 22 points on 9-of-16 from the field. McKenzie had 16 first-half
But after a 43-31 halftime lead was pared down to 47-40, Ohio State responded
with an 18-1 run, putting the game out of reach for good.
Freshman point guard Mike Conley was Sunday's hero for Ohio State. Conley
scored just 6 points, but had 10 assists and five steals to just one turnover.
For the game, Ohio State had just nine turnovers and placed four players in
double-figures in one of their most efficient offensive games of the season.
Othello Hunter had a career-high 15 points and grabbed five rebounds for the
Buckeyes. Ivan Harris added 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
Jamal Abu-Shamala was the only other Minnesota player in double-digit
scoring. Abu-Shamala had 14 points.
Ohio State returns to Columbus for a Wednesday match-up with Penn State. The
Buckeyes hope to have a little easier time against the Nittany Lions the second
time around within a week, as last Wednesday Ohio State blew a 23-point
second-half lead and held on for dear-life as a missed 3-pointer at the buzzer
preserved their 64-62 win.
The Buckeyes will likely take a No.1 or No. 2-ranking into the game
Wednesday. A win would set up a huge Sunday showdown against Wisconsin, who will
likely also either be No. 1 or No. 2. It would be the first time since Feb. 2,
1998 that No. 1 has faced No. 2 in the regular season of college basketball
since Duke and North Carolina tangled of that season. It would also be the first
time ever two Big Ten teams ranked in the top two spots have clashed.
What Minnesota Did Right and Ohio State Did Wrong
* Credit the Golden Gophers for going with their strengths. Minnesota was
playing with the mindset of getting the ball into the hands of their few
play-makers - McKenzie and Abu-Shamala. McKenzie fought through double-screens,
staggered screens and around several picks to take any opening he could find.
His play largely kept Minnesota alive early in the game.
* Ohio State becomes very vulernable to dribble penetration when Oden leaves
the floor. In the first half, the Gophers attacked the rim against Matt Terwilliger and Harris. The lacking presence of the 7-footer shows the rarely
seen exploits of Ohio State's weakside defense and occasional mental lapses.
* Minnesota, respecting Ohio State's shooting ability, continued in the
common trend of electing not to double-team Oden when he receives the ball on
the baseline. Bryce Webster did a good job during the early portion of the game
not allowing Oden to gain position inside, but either by intimidation, fatigue
or simply a more assertive effort by Oden, he started relenting and allowing
Oden to back him down too far.
* Kudos to Ron Lewis for his inspired offensive showing in light of his
coming off the bench (more on that shortly), but if there was one knock on his
game Sunday afternoon, it was defensively. Lewis' experiment guarding McKenzie
in the first half was nothing short of being termed, "a failure." Lewis
especially struggled fighting through screens and was late in returning off
hedges. That said, his offensive performance was one of the better in recent
What Ohio State Did Right and Minnesota Did Wrong
* Was it a benching, motivation tool or reward to Cook, who reportedly had a
great week of practice? Whatever the rationale, Thad Matta's decision to start
Cook in place of Lewis worked wonders against Minnesota. The move, which
arguably may have been done sooner if not for the risk of losing Lewis and his
mindset, as well as wanting Cook to work hard on both ends to earn his spot,
does a multitude of things for Ohio State. First and foremost, it will slightly
change the rotation patterns, especially early in the game, keeping Lewis on the
floor when Harris and Butler likely sit. Secondly, Matta can challenge Lewis
with the importance of being the "sixth starter," a role that fit him last
season. Another thing it does is likely motivates the freshman, who had
disappeared at times in recent weeks. Cook will now be less likely to fall out
of sight and out of mind.
* It was Ohio State's defensive activity in the first and second half that
won the game for them going away. Harris, Conley, Hunter and Butler were all
shuffling their feet and playing the passing lanes, causing turnovers by
Minnesota. More importantly, Ohio State was making them pay by converting those
turnovers into points in transition.
* In an ever-developing process, Hunter again played the best game of his
career in my humble opinion. He continues to be a force on the offensive boards,
but his hard work on defense and comfort level offensively makes him a candidate
for a March sleeper. Conley also stepped up big for Ohio State. His defense and
passing ability, especially in the open floor, was a dagger through the heart of
* The biggest plus for Ohio State Sunday was what they didn't do - rely on
their outside shot. With Ohio State's renewed effort to establish Oden in the
post, the Buckeyes were scoring inside and on the break. Quietly but extremely
efficiently, Ohio State made 44 percent of their 3-point attempts. More
impressively, with one minor exception early to start the second half, Ohio
State never gave the impression they were settling for outside shots. The
Buckeyes attempted just 16 of 65 shots Sunday from beyond the arc.
* In Ohio State's quest to feed Oden the ball, the Buckeyes were trying some
new things. In the first half, Ohio State was flashing Oden to the free throw
line, and as they reversed the ball away to the opposite wing, someone would
make a horizontal screen down the baseline to the block, where Oden would
shuffle around and set himself up comfortably in prime position to receive an
entry pass. Ohio State also used a couple of variations of this later in the
game to get a weakside screen and free up a shooter after a ball reversal. This
is the kind of creativity that will go a long ways to Ohio State's tournament
success, especially if they execute offensively the way they did Sunday.
* Ball control. Last but not least, Ohio State returned to their conservative
ways and turned the ball over fewer than 10 times for the fourth time in their
last five games. Protecting the ball and shooting at a high percentage as they
have done is a good combination hitting March.
No one would confuse an 18-point victory against a struggling Minnesota club
as the surest sign of life from an inconsistent Ohio State basketball team. That
said, you want to hit your stride heading into March, and it's good for the
Buckeyes that they played one of their best games of the season after such a
sloppy finish against Penn State.
Ohio State's task is simple: win three games and win an outright Big Ten
title. More importantly, they get set up for an ever-so-important No. 1 seed in
the NCAA Tournament. People sometimes downplay the importance of being a No. 1,
as some do not care for the pressure that's attached. But this season
especially, it is a good idea to be one of the top three teams ranked on the
selection committee's "s-curve," which is a subjective ranking of the teams in
the field, 1-65. Being one of these top three teams will likely mean avoiding
the best No. 2-seed, which will likely be one of the five elite teams people
agree have the best shot of winning a National Championship.
Beating out Wisconsin and North Carolina in the s-curve will mean several
things. It means avoiding UNC, Wisconsin, UCLA and Florida until at least the
Final Four. It also means a likely trip to East Rutherford for the regionals
instead of St. Louis or even San Antonio. Lastly, it could mean facing a
possible 12-seed cinderella story in the Sweet Sixteen instead of a three seed
or even increases the chances of playing a lower seed in the Elite Eight instead
one of the aforementioned "elite" teams.
None of that maters yet, however.
Ohio State still has three regular season games to play and then the Big Ten
Tournament. It's time for them to build off their victory against Minnesota and
start playing the basketball they are capable of playing - for all 40 minutes of