It was Jekyll and Hyde night at Value City Arena.
Which one is the evil, ugly one? Doesn’t matter. Last night, in the first half against Minnesota, Ohio State was.
“Definitely the worst we’ve played. Coach (Thad) Matta said it at halftime,” junior Sam Thompson said. “Up to this point in the season, we hadn’t come out and just laid an egg, and we did that in the first half.”
And then, in the second half, the Buckeyes produced a golden one.
Limited to a season-low 18 points in the first 20 minutes, No. 24 Ohio State erupted for 46 in the second and roared past the Golden Gophers for a 64-46 victory, their sixth in seven games.
Thompson scored 16 of his 19 points after halftime and Lenzelle Smith Jr. had 13 to lead the Buckeyes (22-6 overall, 9-6 Big Ten), whose comeback from a 10-point halftime deficit to win was their largest since they rallied from a 12-point deficit at Purdue on Jan. 12, 2010.
“Every game from here on out is a desperation game for us,” said LaQuinton Ross, who had five points, three rebounds, a blocked shot and an assist during Ohio State’s 17-0 run early in the second half.
Andre Hollins scored 13 points to lead Minnesota (17-11, 6-9), which lost for the sixth time in its past eight games and is sliding the wrong way on the NCAA tournament bubble.
“We just continue to do some things that don’t allow us to win, little turnovers here and there,” coach Richard Pitino said. “But I don’t want to take away from them. They deserved the victory.”
Languid against Minnesota’s zone defense in the first half, the Buckeyes trailed 30-18 early in the second half before a tough putback basket by Smith seemed to stir something in them. If that didn’t, a hard-driving layup by Smith on the next possession did.
Aaron Craft followed those with a steal and layup, Ross had a blocked shot that led to dunk by Thompson, and suddenly, the Buckeyes were getting stops on defense and fueling a transition offense missing in the first half. They ran off 17 points in a row to take the lead for the first time.
“They were attacking plays, and that’s what we didn’t have in the first half, those extra-effort-type plays, finishing through contact,” Matta said.
The 17-0 run gave Ohio State a 35-30 lead with 13:10 remaining. Then Thompson scored the Buckeyes’ next 10 points as they increased their lead to 45-35 with 10:42 left.
Minnesota closed to eight points with two free throws on its next possession, but no closer after that. Ohio State led by as many as 20 points in the final two minutes.
“We had nine turnovers (in the second half), and they made us pay probably on every single one of them,” Pitino said.
Ohio State scored 15 points off turnovers in the second half and shot 56.7 percent from the field, more than twice what it did in the first. The Buckeyes had seven steals in the second half. Craft had four of them.
“Big plays spark this team, especially on the defensive end,” Ross said. “Anytime we get a steal and we get out, you could see everybody in the crowd up on their feet knowing we were about to do something exciting. Defense is what this team is based on and how we win.”