The Gophers picked up their biggest win of the year on Sunday, defeating the third-ranked and previously undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes 84-71 in front of a raucous crowd at Williams Arena.
Minnesota led by as many as 18 points, leading for more than 30 minutes and controlling the game against a Buckeyes team that likely would have been ranked first in the country on Monday with a win.
Marcus Carr led the Gophers with a career-high 35 points to go with 7 assists, while Daniel Oturu added 14 points and 13 rebounds. Minnesota played great, from start to finish.
“Obviously, a terrific win for our guys,” said coach Richard Pitino. “From start to finish we played the right way.”
Here’s how they knocked off the Buckeyes:
Intensity. The Gophers played with an aggressiveness that hadn’t been there, frankly, all season. The guards consistently attacked, the bigs banged with Ohio State’s physical frontcourt in the post, and everyone hit the boards.
About the only sluggish play came early when Alihan Demir missed a box out; he woke up to grab some big rebounds the rest of the game but not before being immediately pulled for Jarvis Omersa, who, along with Gabe Kalsheur and Oturu, crashed the offensive glass all first half, punctuated by an emphatic two-handed put-back dunk by Oturu.
On defense early, Carr drew a charge in the post, Tre’ Williams stripped a ball on a fast break, and Willis did the same doubling down on a post-up. The Gophers knew who their opponent was and came to play accordingly.
Guard play. In a similar vein, the guards played an entirely different game than they did on Monday versus Iowa, when they made zero two-point shots. Kalscheur drove hard to the basket on the first possession –almost to prove a point – and Carr and Williams followed his lead, getting into the lane all game, finishing with a combined 42 points. Payton Willis, battling an ankle injury, added 6 points and a +15 while on the court.
“I didn’t put in a new play, there wasn’t a new set,” Pitino said after the game. “We started driving more.” He praised the aggressive guard play, singling out Kalscheur, and noting that the performance against Iowa was “not a recipe for winning."
Defense. Coming off of 74-49 and 106-74 wins over North Carolina and Penn State, in which they shot 46% and 57%, respectively, Ohio State finished with just 41 points on 14-of-22 shooting. Part of this was sloppy play by the Buckeyes, who were missing second-leading scorer Duane Washington Jr., but most of it was due to the Gophers’ efforts. They held the Buckeyes without a field goal for more than six minutes in the first half, and limited leading-scorer Kaleb Wesson to just 12 points.
After getting destroyed by Iowa on fast break points, with the Hawkeyes repeatedly beating the defense back and getting open looks, the Gophers clamped down, hustling back and holding an Ohio State team similarly looking to run to a more-acceptable 12 fast break points. Pitino deserves credit for making the adjustments.
The Gophers weren’t perfect – they turned the ball over more than Ohio State, for example, and gave up a number of open looks the Buckeyes failed to convert – but they played far-and-away their best game of the year.
Oturu held his own Wesson, one of the Big Ten’s best big men; Carr looked fantastic; Williams and Omersa both gave great minutes off the bench.
And last but certainly not least, the Gophers took 20 free throws, making 15 of them. That’s right – they shot 75% from the line!
All in all, this was a potential season-changing win. The Gophers will look to keep up the momentum when they take on Oklahoma State next Saturday in Tulsa.