Second half splash sends Ohio State exploding on Gophers
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gophers senior Payton Willis had Ohio State’s Kyle Young right where he wanted him — backpedaling on a drive-and-spin move that culminated in a point-blank shot Tuesday night in first half.
Willis didn’t miss much from that short distance, but he came just wide. It was part of a tough shooting night for one of the Big Ten’s top guards with just five points.
This usually meant Ben Johnson’s Gophers had no chance from the start of sticking with a top Big Ten opponent, but they still led by two points against the No. 18 Buckeyes at halftime. .
For the second straight game, the Gophers relied on other offensive options when one of their leading scorers struggled, but it was nowhere near enough in a 70-45 loss Tuesday at Ohio State.
The Gophers (12-11, 3-11 in the Big Ten) gave up just 23 points in the first half, but were outscored 47-20 in the second half to give up the first of a two-game streak road games.
On Saturday, Minnesota snapped a five-game losing streak with a 76-70 victory over Penn State when four starters hit double digits, surprisingly not including the Big Ten’s sixth-leading scorer, Jamison Battle.
Three days later, Willis had just two points on 1-for-6 shooting from the field and four turnovers in the first half against Ohio State, but Battle, Luke Loewe and Treyton Thompson combined for 22 of 25 points in the team.
The Battle jumper with just under three minutes to play capped a 10-0 run and gave the Gophers a 23-17 first-half lead.
The Buckeyes (16-6, 9-4) could hear the frustration set in with their home crowd before Malaki Branham’s jumper broke a 6½-minute drought.
After dominating with a 23-point effort and 15 rebounds in a 75-64 win Jan. 27 over the Gophers in Minneapolis, EJ Liddell was calm with just four points in the first half on Tuesday, but his touches at the interior were limited.
Liddell and Willis were playing their best basketball going into Tuesday’s game. Willis has averaged 18.9 points and 6.3 assists on 51% three-point shooting in his previous seven games. And Liddell has had at least 20 points in four of his last five games, including 28 points in Saturday’s win at Michigan.
But the Gophers and Buckeyes had to look elsewhere in this game without a big night from either Big Ten.
For Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann, that meant Malaki Branham’s three straight points sparked a 13-2 run in the second half. The Buckeyes led 40-29 on their third straight three this time from Jamari Wheeler after a late defensive shutout.
Wheeler sat out with a foot injury in the last meeting, but was fine on Tuesday with his 13th point on a wide open shot from long distance to extend it to a 13-point Ohio State advantage with 11 minutes left. to play.
The Gophers were healthier in the frontcourt with senior big man Eric Curry back after missing Ohio State’s last game. Curry, who had a career-high 22 points Saturday against Penn State, is fully recovered from an ankle injury, but his impact was limited in Columbus.
Ohio State crushed the Gophers on the glass last month with 27 second-chance points on 20 offensive rebounds. The battle on the boards didn’t make the difference in Tuesday night’s game.
Offensive issues carried over to defensive breakdowns in the second half, which was a nine-game 10-game trend heading into Saturday’s win over the Nittany Lions.
Loewe and Battle led the Gophers with 12 and 11 points, respectively, but they shot just 27 percent in the second half as a team.
Midway through three games in five days, the Gophers will look to bounce back again by defeating Penn State in a rescheduled game at State College on Thursday.