COLUMBUS, Ohio –Trevor Thompson had a career-high 19 points to lead Ohio State over Minnesota on Wednesday, but he wouldn’t let himself be happy and said his teammates shouldn’t be either.
“We don’t have time to feel good,” Thompson said after the Buckeyes’ 78-72 victory, capped by two critical blocks in the last 20 seconds by the 7-foot centre.
“We can’t relax, we can’t feel good,” he said. “We can’t take this win and think that we’re there because we’re not by any shape or form. We just got to continue to chip away.”
The Buckeyes have won three of their last four after losing their first four Big Ten games but have been beset with wildly inconsistent play. They must pull of a string of wins in the last 10 regular-season games to have a chance of getting back to the NCAA Tournament after being relegated to the NIT last year.
Marc Loving bounced back from a disappointing performance in a loss Sunday to also score 19 as Ohio State dealt the Gophers (15-4, 3-5 Big Ten) their third straight loss.
Ohio State (13-8, 3-5) played one of its better games of the season against an evenly matched team, shooting 50 per cent and making 23 of 30 free throws, including all nine in the first half. The Buckeyes scored 19 off Minnesota turnovers.
JaQuan Lyle had 11 points and Jae’Sean Tate added 10 for the Buckeyes. Thompson played 32 minutes, grabbed 10 rebounds and hit 3 of 4 shots from beyond the arc. He’s scored in double figures in seven straight games.
“He was terrific,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “He’s probably the most improved player in the conference, in my opinion.”
Nate Mason paced the Gophers with 21 points, and Akeem Springs has 15 points and 10 rebounds. They shot 41 per cent from the floor and kept fighting back to keep the game from becoming a blowout.
Ohio State led by 17 with 3:11 left in the first half, but a 12-0 run by Minnesota closed it to 40-35 at the intermission. Thompson scored eight of the first 13 points for the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes opened the lead to 10 with 7:04 left in the game on a Loving jumper, but a 10-2 run punctuated by a Mason 3-pointer cut the lead to two.
Loving hit a 3-pointer with one minute left to open the lead back up to six, but Springs answered with a 3 for Minnesota cutting it to 75-72 with 48 ticks remaining.
Lyle missed two foul shots with 32 seconds left, but Minnesota fouled him again and he converted both to make it 77-72. Fittingly, Thompson went to the stripe and hit a free throw with six seconds left to seal it.
“We had some opportunities at the end. Some things didn’t go our way,” Pitino said.
“I’m not unhappy with the way we’re playing,” he said. “I feel confident that they’ll break through.”
Ohio State coach Thad Matta agreed with Thompson that with the way the Buckeyes have been playing lately, the Buckeyes can’t feel particularly good about the win
“The second we feel like we have this figured out is not good for our team,” Matta said. “We’ll come back in here tomorrow and prepare.”
The Buckeyes earned a split of the season series with Minnesota after a 78-68 loss on Jan. 8.
Minnesota: Gophers are on a downward spiral, losing their fourth consecutive game after starting the season 15-2. They’ve won in Columbus only once in the last 18 tries.
Ohio State: Buckeyes get a badly needed win and will need to win seven out of their remaining 10 regular-season games to reach 20 and stay viable for the NCAA Tournament.
Minnesota: Hosts Maryland on Saturday afternoon.
Ohio State: Plays at Iowa on Saturday night.