Buckeyes Explode In Second Half For 70-45 Win over Gophers

The Buckeyes were held to a season low 23 points in the first half but exploded for 47 in the second, stepping off the Value City Arena floor with a 70-45 victory. The win lifts them to a 16-6 record, 9-4 in conference play, keeping them in the thick of the race for the Big Ten regular season title.  The Buckeyes were once again led be All-American candidate EJ Liddell who scored 16 points and 10 boards. Jamari Wheeler also contributed 11 points on 5-8 shooting.  Luke Loewe led the Gopher scoring with 11 points.  Ohio State is now 11-0 at home on the year, with 5 of their final 7 games scheduled in Columbus.

Ohio State took the tip-off and the early lead 2-0 as Zed Key grabs an offensive board and drops in the early putback.  Jamison Battle and Luke Loewe responded with a three-pointer and two-pointer respectively to give the Gophers an early 5-2 advantage.  But that was not the biggest concern for the Bucks.  At the 17:40 mark, Jamari Wheeler picked up his 2nd foul and had to head to the bench. The Buckeyes were already going to be without the services of Meechie Johnson once again, so guard depth was very thin. Cedric Russell came in to carry the load for a large portion of the first half.  EJ Liddell and Malaki Branham each scored to allow Ohio State to take back the lead but that did not last long as Battle hit his second three in as many tries to make it 8-6 Gophers.  Minnesota was holding on to a 10-8 lead at the games first stoppage of play.

Cedric Russell his a 10-footer from the baseline to make it 10-10, and Liddell added to more with a fade-away jumper in the paint to make 12-10. Neither team playing particularly well in the opening minutes, Minnesota at one point missed 8 shots in a row. Kyle Young and Justin Arhens were inserted into the line-up to help shake things up and give the starters some rest but the Buckeyes continued to struggle to find any continuity on their offense.  Eventually Coach Holtmann needed to risk Wheeler by bringing him back into the game but at the 7:57 time out is was still a low scoring affair with Ohio State clinging to a 17-13 lead. In all the game had already seen 6 lead changes while the Gophers were only managing 29% shooting from the field, a stat they were not able to improve on the rest of the game.

This is where things really started to unravel for the home team as they committed turnover after turnover.  In all, they had 6 turnovers in 8 possessions at one stretch.  For another unusual stat, EJ Liddell fouled after one of those turnovers sending Sean Southerlin to the line.  This was the first time a player from either team had went to the charity stripe at the 5:58 mark. As Minnesota continued to take advantage of the Buckeye mistakes, Holtmann was forced to burn a time out with 4:35 remaining in the first half.  As they came out of the time out, a very weak, ally-oop pass was attempted making Buckeye fans whisper under their breath, “That is what you came up with during the time out?”  The Gophers increased their lead to 21-17 as the scoring drought continued.

In the final couple minutes of the half, Minnesota expanded their lead to 25-21 before Cedric Russell ended the scoring with a drive in the lane to make it 25-23 at the break.  Before this game, 26 points had been the lowest output for a first half all season long for Holtmann’s team. The Gophers held the narrow lead thanks mostly to a 10-0 run late in the half. Jamison Battle leads their scoring with 8 points but was held very well after two quick threes to open the game.  Ohio State boasts a 4 person tie for leading scorer, but with four at 4 points each for EJ Liddell, Malaki Branham, Gene Brown and Cedric Russell. Only two assists for the Buckeyes compared to 8 turnovers.

OSU opens scoring on second half with a bucket as the shot clock expired, but even though it took them 30 seconds to pull the trigger, it was very clear that this team was coming out with more fire out of the locker room. They were hitting from both inside and outside, including finally finding the range on their 3-point game. The Buckeyes had taken a 37-29 lead after outscoring the Gophers 14-4 to open the second twenty minutes of play forcing Minnesota to call a time out to stop the bleeding at the 15:31 mark.  In the first four minutes, the Buckeyes had almost as many points as they had in the entire first period of play.

Unfortunately for the Gopher faithful, it was clear where this one was heading. Wheeler got an assist for EJ Liddell for a three and in a blink it was 40-29.  A basket by Liddell and a steal and a layup and the Buckeyes had a 44-32 and never looked back after that.  Coach Holtmann stepped up the defensive pressure and it was showing. The Gophers started to experience the same turnover troubles the home team experienced in the first half. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, it was 47-32 OSU at the 13:46 media stoppage and the only thing the fans needed now was for the home team to get 70 points so that all the fans could get free McDonald’s fries.

Charlie Daniels, not the late fiddle player, pushed inside for a strong bucket and drew a foul.  Making the free throw gave him the old fashion three point play and that was about the last exciting thing left in the game for the Minnesota Gophers (12-11, 3-11).   Payton Willis who leads the conference in 3-pint shooting was 0-4 from behind the arc and 2-11 overall. Just before the final media time out EJ Liddell grabbed his 10th rebound giving him yet another double-double for the night and his 33rd straight game in double-figures scoring. It was 62-42 with 3:22 remaining on the clock. At the 1:52 mark, Holtmann called time-out to clear his bench so the Buckeyes had Harrison Hookfin, Joey Brunk, Justin Arhens, Jimmie Sotos, and Cedric Russell on the floor when the French Fries bucket ripped through the nylons. Minnesota was held to just 6 field goals in the second half and were promptly ushered out and sent back to Bushwood.

The Ohio State victory combined with the Michigan State loss tonight put the Bucks in 4th place on the conference.

NEXT GAME: Ohio State will next hit the court Saturday at 2:30 pm in Value City Arena, taking on Iowa in the only matchup of the season with the Hawkeyes. This is the reschedule game that was postponed due to weather earlier in the season and will be televised on FOX.

– Gregg Watson

– Photos From Jason Harris


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