Back on top of the Big Ten

by Todd Zolecki

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Any sign, any bit of evidence the Gophers men’s basketball team beat Ohio State on Saturday, didn’t exist in its locker room that afternoon. Nowadays, a win alone isn’t enough cause for celebration.
Especially when players know they could have played much better and expectations of themselves grow each week.
So they changed clothes and gathered their belongings without as much as one word or smile. A 73-67 win against the Buckeyes left the team content, but upset because it made too many mistakes.
“It was kind of ugly, but a win is a win,” Gophers point guard Eric Harris said.
Ugly because Minnesota blew a 13-2 first half lead and trailed 39-36 at halftime. Ugly because it had nine first half turnovers. And ugly because it allowed Ohio State to grab eight first half offensive rebounds.
Gophers coach Clem Haskins made sure he let his players know of their shortcomings at the intermission. He said players seemed to be “running through the motions” and lacked intensity.
Haskins wasn’t about to let his team lose its second straight game and hinder its chances to win the Big Ten title.
“I can’t repeat what I said at halftime,” Haskins said. “I have this nice-guy image, and I want to die with it.”
Haskins’ words weren’t exactly pleasant. Gophers guard Charles Thomas said Haskins “got on us a little bit.”
Whatever Haskins said, it worked. The Gophers reclaimed the lead just over two minutes into the second half when forward Sam Jacobson made a 3-pointer.
The Gophers’ intensity reappeared in the second half. Their defense forced the Buckeyes to struggle with the ball, especially after Buckeyes point guard Damon Stringer got into foul trouble.
Stringer picked up his fourth foul with 14:26 left in the game. At the time he had 12 points, and he scored only three more points the rest of the way.
“They really stepped it up on defense,” Buckeyes forward Shaun Stonerook said, who finished with a game-high 25 points. “They stopped the reaching-fouls and the other silly fouls. That hurt us. We had the opportunity to knock off a really good team, but we didn’t.
“They did whatever they wanted to us in the second half.”
Harris led the Gophers with 16 points, 10 of which came at the free throw line — a place Minnesota’s opponents usually spend most of their time.
Jacobson finished with 14 points and Quincy Lewis and Bobby Jackson had 10 each.
The win put Minnesota (16-2, 5-1 Big Ten) in a tie for first place with Iowa, which lost Sunday to Michigan. The Gophers play Iowa on Thursday night at Williams Arena and host Purdue on Saturday.
Minnesota hasn’t looked the same since its victories against Indiana and Michigan two weeks ago. Haskins is glad his team went 1-1 since then, losing to Illinois last Tuesday and rebounding with a win over the Buckeyes.
Thomas said the Gophers have lacked mental toughness the past two games. He hopes a week at home and time spent watching film will identify what went wrong and how to correct it.
“We’re not happy with the way we played,” Gophers center John Thomas said. “We know that to continue with the great record … and the way we have been playing … we have to keep it going. We didn’t play like we should have.”
Charles Thomas played 13 minutes and scored seven points. He missed the Illinois game with back problems. He experienced back pain after the game Saturday and said it is something he will probably have to deal with the rest of the season.

Notes: The Gophers are ranked fourth in the latest Ratings Percentage Index poll, used by the NCAA in determining tournament seeds. Only Kansas, Clemson and Kentucky are ranked higher than Minnesota. Indiana (7th), Michigan (22nd) and Wisconsin (24th) are in the top 25.
Gophers guard Quincy Lewis continues to live with an identity crisis. The public address announcer at Ohio State’s St. John Arena called Lewis “Quincy Jones” in the first half. Lewis has never produced a hit record.

##7 Gophers 36 37 — 73
Ohio State 39 28 — 67

Gophers — James 2-2 0-0 4, Jacobson 6-12 0-0 14, J. Thomas 1-3 3-4 5, Jackson 4-10 2-2 10, Harris 3-5 10-13 16, Lewis 3-8 4-7 10, C. Thomas 2-4 3-3 7, Winter 3-4 1-1 7, Tarver 0-2 0-0 0, Archambault 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-50 23-30 73.
Ohio State — Tate 2-7 2-4 6, Stonerook 8-11 7-8 25, Lumpkin 0-1 2-2 2, Coleman 2-10 1-2 7, Stringer 5-8 3-3 15, Singleton 1-7 3-4 5, Winston 3-9 0-0 7, Tucker 0-1 0-0 0, Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Jantonio 0-1 0-0 0, May 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-55 18-23 67.
3-Point goals — Minnesota 2-10 (Jacobson 2-3, Jackson 0-1, Thomas 0-1, Harris 0-2, Lewis 0-3), Ohio State 7-16 (Stringer 2-3, Stonerook 2-4, Coleman 2-8, Winston 1-1). Fouled out — J. Thomas, Coleman. Rebounds — Minnesota 31 (Lewis 6), Ohio State 34 (Tate 8). Assists — Minnesota 16 (Jackson 7), Ohio State 15 (Stringer 5). Total fouls — Minnesota 20, Ohio State 23. Technical foul — Jackson. A — 11,466.