Minn. takes out Buckeyes

Lawrence McKenzie hopes to own his own business someday.

During a stretch in the second half Saturday afternoon, he owned The Barn.

The senior guard scored all of his game-high 20 points in the final 20 minutes of play, fittingly leading the Minnesota men’s basketball team to a 71-57 win against Ohio State on “Senior Day” at Williams Arena.

“When I get hot, I get hot,” McKenzie said. “When I get hot, It’s like, ‘Watch out.’ I’ll hit it from anywhere.”

On YouTube if you type in “Lawrence McKenzie” you’ll discover a 10-minute highlight tape of the combo-guards’ days at Patrick Henry High School.

It looks very similar to McKenzie’s second half on Saturday.

In front of 13,443 fans, including a group of family members who flew in from South Carolina, McKenzie almost single-handedly turned a back-and-forth game into a Gophers double-digit blowout win.

Following an emotional ceremony honoring Minnesota’s three seniors, McKenzie posted a first-half line of zero points on 0-of-4 shooting with four turnovers.

But once McKenzie, who said he would label himself as a “streak shooter,” shook the jitters he admittedly had to start his final game in front of his hometown fans, he couldn’t miss.

McKenzie hit his first four shots of the second half, finished 5-of-7 from the field, connected on three three-pointers and hit all seven of his free throw attempts, turning a 24-23 half-time lead into a 17 point drubbing.

“I knew I was going to get it going somehow,” McKenzie said. “I just knew I had to calm down and get those jitters out of the way.”

By the time McKenzie scored his final points of the day – a pair of free throws – the Gophers were up by 12. A few possessions later Minnesota’s lead ballooned to 18.

At that point, with the Gophers’ first signature win of the season in the books, Smith removed his three active seniors – McKenzie, Coleman (13 points five rebounds) and Tollackson (three points five rebounds) – to a standing ovation as a “Thank you seniors chant” resonated from the student section.

“We got a good effort from everyone, but I couldn’t be happier for our seniors because they’ve gone through a lot over the last few years,” coach Tubby Smith said.

“They came here because they love this University; they love this community and certainly the fans here at the Barn because of how they’ve embraced them,” he said.

After a sloppy, mistake-prone first-half, though, it didn’t look as promising that the Gophers would end Senior Day on a high note.

With so much riding on the game – NCAA tournament hopes and a first-day bye in the Big Ten tournament at the top of that list – both teams came out aggressive, leading to spirited but shoddy play. It also led to five ties and eight lead changes.

Nine minutes in, the Gophers had as many points (six), as turnovers. Still, Minnesota (18-10 overall, 8-8 Big Ten) did enough to hang around with the Buckeyes and even after 11 turnovers and 30.4 shooting, Minnesota did enough things right to lead the Buckeyes (17-12, 8-8) by one at the break.

Then McKenzie took over, appropriately ending Senior Day with a victory and keeping Minnesota’s slim NCAA tournament hopes alive in the process.

“McKenzie blitzed us in the second half,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “Give him credit, he made big time plays.”

Said Smith: “It was good to see Lawrence McKenzie come out of the mini-slump he had in the first half. He started making some shots and he really got us going. He was energized and certainly it gets our players energized when he’s making shots.”

Sophomore guard Lawrence Westbrook finished with 16 points while freshman guard Blake Hoffarber added 10. Freshman center Koufos Kosta led the Buckeyes with 17.