One step closer to Big Ten title

by Todd Zolecki

Courtney James didn’t need to know the halftime score Wednesday night to figure out the Gophers men’s basketball team trailed Ohio State and looked nothing like the No. 2 team in the country. When he walked into the Gophers’ locker room midway through coach Clem Haskins’ speech, he could simply tell by the tone in his voice.
Sometimes it’s hard to discern. Haskins can get on his players if they’re up by 20 points or down by 20. This time, however, James knew his coach wasn’t happy.
Minnesota trailed the Buckeyes 28-27 at intermission, but came back to win, 60-48. The Gophers (23-2, 12-1 in the Big Ten) can now clinch a tie for the Big Ten championship if they beat Illinois on Saturday at Williams Arena.
James wasn’t in the locker room for the entire halftime speech because he was getting 10 stitches near his left eye after he slammed his face against the bottom of the backboard with five minutes left in the first half. Blood trickled down his face, soaking his uniform.
Haskins had reasons to be upset at halftime. His team lacked emotion, played sloppy, allowed Buckeyes point guard Damon Stringer to score 17 points, and Minnesota shot 33 percent from the floor. But after the game, with the win in hand, Haskins simply expressed relief.
“It’s good to be able to celebrate a number 23 win,” he said. “I’ll win all the ugly ones. I could care less how we played, but tonight we didn’t play well. Nobody stepped up for us.”
The Buckeyes (10-12, 5-8) took an early 12-5 lead and stayed with the Gophers every time they appeared ready to take the game over.
Surprisingly, Haskins said he’s going to take it easy on his players today in practice. After two difficult road wins last week, and Illinois — the only Big Ten team to beat the Gophers this season — on the horizon, his players need a break.
“I’m going to reward them for that,” he said. “This happens to teams. It’s human nature to have a letdown and win. So I’m proud we won the game, but I’m disappointed with how we executed.”
Gophers point guard Eric Harris didn’t expect that.
“I didn’t play very well in the first half, and (Haskins) got on me a little bit,” he said. “That’s what basketball is about, you make some mistakes and you try to come back and redeem yourselves. And we did that in the second half.”
Harris said perhaps the Gophers came out and just expected to win by walking out on the court. Center John Thomas said he always expects his teammates to come out with emotion, but it wasn’t there against Ohio State.
In the second half they did show some intensity, and as Haskins said, “finally guarded (Stringer),” who had four points in the second half.
A pair of Thomas free throws gave Minnesota the lead two minutes into the second half. It wouldn’t lose it again. The Gophers finished the game on a 13-5 run and gave the Williams Arena crowd some decent basketball toward the end.
The defense improved, holding the Buckeyes to 34 percent from the field, and Minnesota’s offense went 13 for 27 to give it the edge.
Gophers guard Bobby Jackson led his team with 15 points. Sam Jacobson had 11, despite not shooting the ball well (4-for-15), and Harris had 10.
John Thomas worked the boards for the Gophers, grabbing nine. They out-rebounded Ohio State 42-25.
Five of those rebounds came from James, who left the game and reemerged in the second half with a new jersey, No. 25, the number of ex-Gophers guard Mark Jones, who left the team last summer because he wasn’t guaranteed playing time.
The spirit of Jones’s number didn’t inspire James too much. He had two points and three rebounds in the second half.
“I don’t know if it inspired him to jump as high or dunk more or what,” Thomas said.
Although he said he doesn’t think the blood will come out of his real uniform, James said he wants his No. 4 jersey back.

Ohio State 28 20 — 49
##2 Gophers 27 33 — 60

Gophers — James 1-2 0-2 2, Jacobson 4-15 2-2 11, J.Thomas 3-5 2-3 8, Jackson 7-16 0-0 15, Harris 2-6 4-4 10, Lewis 4-5 0-1 8, C.Thomas 1-3 0-0 3, Winter 1-1 1-2 3, Tarver 0-3 0-0 0, Stauber 0-1 0-0 0, Archambault 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-57 9-14 60.
Ohio State — Winston 4-11 0-0 8, Stonerook 1-4 1-2 3, Lumpkin 2-3 1-2 5, Coleman 2-5 0-0 4, Stringer 8-16 2-2 21, Davis 2-4 0-0 4, Jantonio 0-2 0-0 0, Singleton 1-3 1-2 3, Eisenhard 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-48 5-8 48.
Three-point goals — Ohio State 3-16 (Stringer 3-9, Stonerook 0-2, Jantonio 0-2, Coleman 0-3), Minnesota 5-19 (Harris 2-4, C.Thomas 1-3, Jackson 1-4, Jacobson 1-6, Lewis 0-1, Stauber 0-1). Fouled out — None. Rebounds — Ohio State 25 (Lumpkin 6), Minnesota 42 (J.Thomas 9). Assists — Ohio State 14 (Stonerook 8), Minnesota 19 (Harris 5). Total fouls — Ohio State 15, Minnesota 14. A — 14,262.