MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Lawrence McKenzie scored all 20 of his points in the second half, highlighting the final regular-season home game for him and his two fellow seniors with a 71-57 victory over Ohio State on Saturday afternoon.
McKenzie made three 3-pointers and went 7-for-7 from the foul line. Lawrence Westbrook added 16 points and six rebounds, and Dan Coleman chipped in 13 points for the Gophers (18-10, 8-8).
Blake Hoffarber scored 10 points, and Minnesota held a 37-24 rebounding advantage to keep alive a slim chance of making the NCAA tournament. The Gophers, who had only three turnovers in the second half, finish with road games against Indiana and Illinois.
Kosta Koufos had 17 points and Jamar Butler added 13 points for the Buckeyes (17-12, 8-8), who lost their fourth straight game and fell into a fifth-place tie with Minnesota in the Big Ten standings.
Ohio State, which has lost six of eight, has an athletic team that’s just not working well together right now. Barring an improbable run to the conference tournament title in two weeks, Thad Matta will likely miss the NCAA tournament for only the second time in his eight seasons as a head coach. The other time, his first season with the Buckeyes, was because of self-imposed probation by the school in 2004-05.
This was Minnesota’s first quality win under coach Tubby Smith. The Gophers came into the game 0-9 against teams in the top 100 of the Ratings Percentage Index, the formula that helps the NCAA determine which teams to invite for at-large bids.
McKenzie, Coleman and Spencer Tollackson were taken out of the game in the final minute to a standing ovation and a “thank you, seniors!” chant from the fans.
Ohio State football recruit Willie Mobley, a defensive end from Eden Prairie High School in the southwest Twin Cities suburbs, sat behind the Buckeyes bench wearing a scarlet-and-gray T-shirt featuring his future team.
The first half was certainly not a showcase of NCAA tournament-caliber teams. The Gophers had 11 turnovers, shot only 30.4 percent from the field — 7-for-23 and 2-for-11 from 3-point range — and struggled to complete even basic passes against Ohio State’s full-court zone defense.
After one of Minnesota’s miscues, one frustrated fan near the court yelled, “This is NOT a hard press!”
The Buckeyes scored 11 points off those turnovers before halftime, but that figure could have been much higher. Their biggest lead was four, when a free throw by Koufos made it 17-13 with about 5 1/2 minutes left.
The Gophers led 24-23 at halftime, which — judging by their past performance — was all they needed. They’re 15-0 this season when they take a lead into the locker room, an advantage they didn’t have when they played Ohio State on the road in January. They fell behind 19-3 to start that game.
Minnesota warmed up with the second-half basket switch, and McKenzie was the catalyst. He led a 11-minute surge that might have been his team’s best such stretch of the season, considering the opponent and the calendar. It’s March, remember?
McKenzie, a product of Minneapolis Henry High School who first played at Oklahoma before transferring home, hit his first 3-pointer to break a 26-all tie early in the second half. That started a 27-14 run by the Gophers, capped by a short jumper from McKenzie that stretched the lead to 56-42 with less than 7 1/2 minutes remaining.
His best play? That came at the 12-minute mark, with the shot clock about to expire, when he dribbled around two Buckeyes and threw up an off-balance floater just inside the arc.