Jan. 08, 2017
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Confidence and poise are suddenly in ample supply at Minnesota. Newcomers to the lineup have provided instant sparks and critical production.
The most tangible factor in the turnaround, though, has to be the defense.
Amir Coffey had 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, helping the Gophers stave off another setback at home with a 78-68 victory over Ohio State on Sunday night.
”You can’t take for granted the little things at home because you’re going to have a great crowd,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. ”That’s not what’s going to win you the game. What’s going to win the game is great defense.”
The Gophers, who entered the game with the best field goal percentage defense in the Big Ten, held the Buckeyes without a basket for an 8:03 stretch early in the first half on their way to a 26-8 lead.
Akeem Springs scored 18 points on 5-for-8 shooting from 3-point range for the Gophers (15-2, 3-1), who have already topped their Big Ten win total of last season and beat the Buckeyes for only the second time in the last 12 meetings.
”You’ve just got to be tough. You’ve got to get those 50-50 balls. You’ve got make the critical stop down the stretch,” Springs said.
Jae’Sean Tate had 20 points and nine rebounds and Trevor Thompson had 15 points and 15 rebounds for Ohio State (10-6, 0-3), but Tate also committed five fouls and seven turnovers. The Buckeyes have lost their first three conference games for the first time in coach Thad Matta’s 13 seasons.
”We’ve just got to figure out a way to just come out and play on the court like we do when we’re down by 10,” Tate said. ”We can’t wait.”
The Gophers avoided the second-half lapse that cost them last week in a one-point overtime loss here to Michigan State.
The Buckeyes trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half, 38-27 at the intermission and still 55-47 around the midpoint of the second half after a smooth left-handed pull-up jumper from the baseline by the freshman Coffey.
Reggie Lynch fouled out with 10 points and five rebounds with 4:01 remaining, and Thompson made two free throws to cut Minnesota’s advantage to 62-59, the smallest since 6-3. But Springs, who had five assists, drove along the baseline and out the other side to set up Nate Mason for a floater in the lane that pushed the lead back to 66-59. Then Springs hit the dagger 3-pointer in the closing minutes that gave the Gophers a 69-60 edge.
”He’s fearless. He’s tough. He plays good defense. He makes big shots,” Pitino said. ”That’s what good teams do.”
Ohio State: Matta winced when the Big Ten schedule was revealed, and his fear has been realized. The Buckeyes lost by one point at home to Purdue on Thursday and learned junior forward Keita Bates-Diop will miss the entire season with a stress fracture in his left leg. JaQuan Lyle had 12 points and six assists for the Buckeyes, but fellow starters Marc Loving (nine points on 3-for-11 shooting) and Kam Williams (four points on 1-for-10 shooting) were off kilter all night.
”We didn’t really play with an aggressiveness,” Tate said. ”In a tough environment like this, you’ve got to bring the fight, and we didn’t do that.”
Minnesota: On the verge of their first Associated Press ranking since the week of Feb. 4, 2013, two months before Pitino took over, the Gophers have already passed last season’s conference win total while playing with a verve rarely seen in 2015-16. The depth gained by the integration of transfers Springs and Lynch and freshmen Coffey and Eric Curry has made a major impact. Mason, who was held to 2-for-12 shooting from the field, still finished with 12 points.
”We weren’t as active as we needed to be defensively, but they’re a very, very good basketball team,” Matta said.
Ohio State gets no break by playing on Thursday at Wisconsin (13-3, 2-1).
Minnesota hits the road for the rematch on Wednesday with Michigan State (11-6, 3-1).