Deshaun Thomas overcame a slow start to score 19 points and the Buckeyes used a 16-0 second-half run to wallop the offensively-challenged Gophers. "We didn't play perfect, but we kept pursuing the ball, kept moving," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "A couple times in the first half we made mistakes, but we recovered from them. The thing I was most pleased with was, we just kept playing." That had not been the Buckeyes' modus operandi recently.
The teams came into the night in dire need of a Big Ten win. Both had lost three of their last four, and each was humiliated on the road on Sunday. The Golden Gophers (18-9, 6-8 Big Ten) were pounded at Iowa, 72-51, while Ohio State (19-7, 9-5) wasn't a factor over the final 35 minutes in a 71-49 beatdown at Wisconsin.
"We got knocked down, but it's always good to pick yourself back up and regroup," Thomas said. "We did that tonight."
Shannon Scott added 11 points and LaQuinton Ross 10 for the Buckeyes, who have won the last six meetings with the Golden Gophers overall and the last six in Columbus.
"After the Wisconsin game, we felt bad about everything we did," said Scott, who added five assists, three steals and three blocked shots in 26 minutes.
In the wake of the loss at Wisconsin — which several Buckeyes called "an embarrassment" — Matta had his staff put together an inspirational videotape of a speech by the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Lewis. In it, Lewis — in graphic terms — made the point that it was up to individuals to get motivated.
"It's all on you to get a great effort," Thomas said.
The message was simple, Scott said: "Just to be ready at all times. Don't take anything for granted."
Thomas had just two points (on 1 of 5 shooting from the field) in the opening 16 minutes. But then he gained his footing and starting making shots.
After producing five late points which helped the Buckeyes gain a 29-23 halftime lead, he started the second half with a 3 from the left wing. He later dropped back behind the line after sitting a pick and took a pass from Craft for another 3 and a 37-28 lead.
Andre Hollins hit a 15-foot jumper from the left side for Minnesota with 16:15 left — but the Gophers didn't have another field goal until Oto Osenieks banked in a short shot with 5:36 left. During Ohio State's 16-0 run, Thomas and Shannon Scott each had six points, with LaQuinton Ross and Evan Ravenel each adding baskets.
"Coach (Matta) said, 'They're getting tired,'" Thomas said. "We were stopping them. We had to punch it down their throat."
By the end of the spurt, the Buckeyes were well in command.
Hollins had 11 points and Osenieks 10 for Minnesota, which had a season-high 24 turnovers and shot just 29 percent from the field (14 of 48).
Matta praised his defense, but then added, "But they went cold. They had some good looks at the basket that didn't go down."
It was one of the largest margins ever for the Buckeyes in the series, rivaling the all-time biggest difference of 31 in the March 14, 1992, game (94-63).
Osenieks was reminded that this is the second year in a row that the Golden Gophers have gotten off to a fast start but then faded. This year, they got as high as No. 8 after winning 15 of their first 16 games.
"Yeah, but we're going to get over this," he said. "We're going to learn from our mistakes in the past. We'll make changes. We'll get over it." Meanwhile, the Buckeyes were just pleased to be back on the winning track.
"We just wanted to win, really," Scott said. "We definitely needed that. We'd lost three of four games, so getting back on the winning side was really good for us. Beating them by as many as we did was just extra for us."