Buckeyes’ late rally falls short in 68-59 defeat, Turner scores 21

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Lawrence Westbrook led a typically balanced Minnesota offense with 15 points, and the 21st-ranked Gophers salvaged a split in the opening week of Big Ten play by beating 23rd-ranked Ohio State 68-59 on Saturday.

The Gophers (13-1, 1-1) bounced back from their loss to No. 10 Michigan State three days earlier by rebounding better. Damian Johnson scored 12 points, and Minnesota held a 42-30 advantage on the boards over the Buckeyes (10-2, 1-1).

Missing junior guard David Lighty, Ohio State got 21 points from Evan Turner and 15 from Jon Diebler. But the Gophers held off a late charge and were in command most of the game.

The Buckeyes and Gophers hadn’t faced each other as ranked teams in 27 years. Their last such meeting, here at The Barn, was marred by an infamous brawl that left Buckeyes center Luke Witte unconscious and badly beaten and led to the hospitalization of two other teammates. Minnesota’s conference title that season had a big black eye on it.

This was a typically physical Big Ten game, but not at all like that, though Turner and Minnesota’s Paul Carter yapped at each other after a hard foul by Carter and needed to be separated toward the end.

The Gophers responded to coach Tubby Smith’s exhortations after the 70-58 loss to the 10th-ranked Spartans on Wednesday, ringing in their new year with more intensity and more rebounds.

After plowing through a predominantly soft nonconference schedule with a perfect record, the highlight being a neutral-site win over then-No. 9 Louisville, the Gophers were humbled by Michigan State. But this was a hungry effort, with plenty of hustling to be the first to the loose ball and going back up for the rebound after the first and second attempts were fruitless.

With point guard Al Nolen on the bench with two early fouls and a 22-15 deficit after Diebler swished a 3-pointer, the Gophers started getting their shots to fall and played with more poise and passion than the Buckeyes the rest of the game.

Canadian freshman Devoe Joseph, Nolen’s backup, sparked a 14-0 spurt with a layup and a 3-pointer and Jamal Abu-Shamala finished it with a fast-break layup. His 3-pointer with 46 seconds left in the half stretched the lead to 34-24.

Diebler hit two more 3-pointers early in the second half and the Buckeyes pulled within 36-33, but the ball was literally boucning the Gophers’ way all afternoon.

Johnson had to rush a shot to beat the 35-second clock, but the carom caught the hand of one of the Buckeyes and went out of bounds. Johnson sneaked open underneath for a dunk, and Westbrook made a layup on the next possession off an underhand give-and-go pass from Ralph Sampson and pushed the lead back to double digits. Blake Hoffarber finished an 11-0 run with a 3-pointer from the corner.

Without Lighty, their leader and most experienced player on this senior-less team, the Buckeyes seem to be be lacking mental toughness. They were whipped at home by West Virginia last week, and until the final minutes against the Gophers were missing some fire. Turner led a 10-0 run to cut the lead to 60-52 near the 2-minute mark, but Nolen’s bank shot ended that streak after a timeout by Smith and gave the Gophers some more room.

The Buckeyes will have to learn how to play without Lighty. He’s out for at least another month, and likely two, following surgery to fix a broken left foot a week before Christmas.