Ticked-off Tubby denied win No. 400 again

Minnesota lost its third straight as Ohio State earned the 76-60 win.

Zach Eisendrath

.COLUMBUS, Ohio – After somehow managing to dig itself out of a 16-point first-half deficit, the Minnesota men’s basketball team was entrenched into a tightly contested game with two-time defending Big Ten Champion Ohio State with under 10 minutes remaining.

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michigan
what: Men’s basketball
when: 6 p.m., Thursday
where: Ann Arbor, Mich.

Then came Tubby Smith’s first technical foul as head coach of the Gophers; an act which led to a blink-of-the-eye 6-0 Buckeyes’ run that allowed OSU to leave Value City Arena with a 76-60 win in front of a sellout crowd of 19,049 Saturday night in Columbus.

With the Buckeyes up 48-42 with 9:52 remaining, Smith picked up his first technical of the season when it appeared Gophers sophomore guard Travis Busch was pushed in the back while grabbing a rebound, but was instead called for traveling as he fell to the floor.

That call led to Smith ripping off his glasses and marching to midcourt in search of an explanation, where he was whistled for the penalty.

Two free throws were made by senior guard Jamar Butler, who torched Minnesota for a game-high 27 points and 9 assists, followed by consecutive breakaway dunks by freshman guards Jon Diebler and Evan Turner, and the Gophers were down 12 – a deficit they couldn’t recover from – less than two minutes after being down only four.

“I think (Smith’s technical) had a great impact on (the game),” Butler said. “It got the crowd going. The electricity in the building lifted us and we just played off of it.”

The fact that Minnesota (12-6 overall, 2-4 Big Ten), which was down by as many as 16 points in the first half, was within striking distance for a portion of the second half, was another story.

Early, everything that could go wrong did for Smith’s Gophers.

Failing to contain Ohio State’s perimeter attack, while at the same time struggling to execute effectively against the Buckeyes’ patented two-three zone defensive scheme, Minnesota fell down 11-0 three minutes into the game and 19-3 in the first 10 minutes.

Smith said he had no indication his team would struggle from the get-go in almost eerily the same way it did at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas nearly a month ago.

“If I had, I probably would have tried to stop it,” he said. “They seemed fired up (before the game) and ready to play.”

Senior forward Dan Coleman, who finished with a team-high 14 points, said Ohio State (14-6, 5-2) was able to start so well because it gained confidence after watching jump shot after jump shot go through the net.

“They hit their shots. We didn’t contest enough and they sank them,” Coleman said.

Even after everything that transpired in the first half – shooting 30 percent (10-33) from the field, turning the ball over nine times and multiple defensive breakdowns that allowed uncontested threes – the Gophers were still in the game, down 35-25 at the break.

As Minnesota picked up its pressure defense and started getting the ball inside early in the second half, the deficit continued to shrink and with 13:16 to play, the Gophers were within three after junior center Jonathan Williams converted on a pair of free throws to make it 44-41.

But Minnesota went into a drought, scoring just one point – a free throw by freshman guard Blake Hoffarber – in the next five minutes and the Buckeyes carried the momentum provided by Smith’s technical and Butler’s all-around spectacular play, to victory; closing the game on a 31-19 run with a spurt energized by a raucous crowd.

“When you have a player of Jamar Butler’s talent, where he can find people open, make shots, create opportunities for others, it makes a long night,” Smith said.

Smith’s 400th career victory will have to wait – again. Losers of four of their last five, the Gophers will try once again to get Smith the milestone victory Thursday night at Michigan. Between now and then, Smith said his team must learn how to raise its level of urgency.

“It wasn’t a very pretty game for us, but I thought our kids fought hard to come back,” Smith said.

“We’ll go back and practice like we normally do and get ready for a good Michigan team.”

Noteworthy

For the game, the Gophers shot 36.5 percent from the field, while the Buckeyes shot 50 percent (26-52).

Butler, the nation’s leader in free throw percentage, had made 38 consecutive free throws until missing two free throws Saturday night.