The Gophers nearly pulled off a miraculous 18-point comeback against #2 Ohio State on Sunday after a furious final eight minutes before falling to the Buckeyes 67-64 in Columbus, coming up just an Austin Hollins three-point attempt short of sending the game to overtime.
Nauseating miscommunications, misplays, turnovers and overall bad play dominated the first three quarters of Sunday’s game against the Ohio State, seemingly driving home the fact that Minnesota maybe wasn’t cut out to swim with the conference powerhouses. The Gophers got absolutely no help from their bench, couldn’t seem to hold on to the ball and were unable to push a Buckeye team that certainly wasn’t firing on all cylinders. For a team that wasn’t supposed to compete on the road with one of the best in the nation, it was frustrating to watch Minnesota throw the ball away and fail to convert on scoring chances when Ohio State was having nearly the same problems.
Even with the team going into halftime trailing 32-22, the game seemed within reach, though that feeling that was erased in the first 12 minutes of the second half. A physical David Lighty was having his way with the Gopher defense, and the half-court offense wasn’t sputtering in all aspects. But just when it seemed that the Gophers were destined for a blowout, the team switched gears and turned the tables on the Buckeyes.
Pushing the ball the the hoop and getting to the line, the Gophers were able to inch back into the game, helped out by Buckeye misses and successful free throw shooting. The comeback was given a boost on an and-one drive by Al Nolen with under a minute left that found the Gophers trailing by only three. After a Buckeye miss and a duffed layup and put-back by Nolen and Hollins, the Gophers found themselves with the ball and 15 seconds left. The team, though, failed to get a good shot off, trying desperately to get Blake Hoffarber open and settling for a Hollins fall-away three-point attempt that he may or may not have been fouled on.
The game, like other losses, was both frustrating and encouraging at the same time. Frustrating in the sense that the team was unable to capitalize on the subpar Ohio State play in the first half and early in the second. The Buckeyes missed shots and left the door wide open for the Gophers to contest and even take the lead – an opportunity that the Gophers never took advantage of. They had a hard enough time even scoring, frequently throwing the ball away and failing to find any sort of offensive flow.
The game, though, also had encouraging aspects. Minnesota showed solidarity down the stretch against an incredibly talented team, nearly pulling off the upset and, for the first time in a long time, were not victims of a three-point barrage. In fact, the Buckeyes were only 8-22 from behind the arc for the game. Further, the Gophers stayed resilient at the line, hitting 24 of their 27 free throw attempts including all 19 in the second half, which was instrumental in their comeback. The team didn’t get get overpowered by Jared Sullinger either, which was a concern going into the game.
The loss was the Gophers third in their first four conference games, but in a brutal opening to the season, this wasn’t unexpected. If anything, I find it rather encouraging that the team has played so hard on the road against the toughest opponents in the conference. Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State are not easy places to play at and each team is incredibly talented. I don’t want to sound like an apologist, but considering that Minnesota has put a scare into each opponent they’ve faced on the road, I think we at least owe them the Purdue game at home before we call them out for not achieving success yet in conference play. A win would be nice, but these three losses should not be panic inducing.
Who did what:
- Trevor Mbakwe was his usual physical self, racking up 16 points and 12 rebounds while swatting four blocks. Mbakwe teamed up up with Ralph Sampson to do a great job of taking away the Buckeye post presence, forcing Ohio State to win through the air. Mbakwe stayed out of foul trouble for the second straight game, picking up only three fouls in the game.
- Ralph Sampson III had a mediocre game, scoring eight points (four on FTs) and pulling down five rebounds, but failed to record a block. Sampson wasn’t a major factor on offense and really didn’t see much of the ball, something we’re starting to grow accustomed to.
- Blake Hoffarber had extreme trouble getting open and Ohio State made sure that he wouldn’t be the one to beat them, face-guarding him the entire game and making a concerted effort to keep him contained. Hoffarber only made one three-point attempt, finishing the day with seven points and three rebounds.
- Al Nolen had an up-and-down game. His free-throw shooting down the stretch keyed the Gopher comeback, but he also stalled runs at times with Devoe Joseph-like three-point attempts. He forced a lot of shots, which isn’t his style by any means, but also showed his ability to drive the lane and get to the line. Honestly, I’d rather have Nolen play too aggressively than too passively, but airballing forced three-pointers is not something we want to see a lot of. Nolen finished with 11 points on 2-10 shooting, dished out six assists and grabbed five rebounds.
- Rodney Williams had another encouraging game, scoring nine points in extended minutes on 4-7 shooting. Williams seems to be shying away from longer shots and trying to get off attempts closer to the basket, which is something he should probably he focusing on.
- Colton Iverson played 19 minutes, but was only able to score four points on 1-4 shooting; and his misses were pretty ugly. With Sampson struggling, Iverson has a chance to prove his worth down low offensively, but so far has been unable to do so. Defensively, however, he was golden, and did a good job keeping the Buckeyes off-balance down low.
Photo courtesy of Terry Gilliam, Associated Press