How do you know Minnesota is for real?
Even with Nate Mason having a frigid night from the field, the Gophers found plenty of scoring to make up for the guy who was averaging better than 20 points a game in three previous Big Ten contests.
But it was Ohio State's nightmarish offensive start that doomed the Buckeyes and sent the Gophers to a 78-68 victory, their 15th win of the season.
Mason finished with 12 points but was just 2-for-12 from the field, doing most of his damage at the free-throw line, where he was 7-for-9. Akeem Springs made up for Mason's off night, though, with a stellar 18 points, 15 of those coming on five makes from 3-point range. Freshman Amir Coffey poured in a team-high 19 points, with Reggie Lynch adding 10 points.
Ohio State couldn't make a shot to open the game and quickly found itself trailing Minnesota by double digits. Back-to-back triples by Coffey and Springs made it 16-3 before eight minutes had gone by, and the gap was massive at 26-8 with nine and a half minutes still to go before halftime. The Buckeyes chipped away and had the deficit back to single digits with about two minutes till half, but by the time 20 minutes were up, Ohio State had just a 30.3-percent shooting mark, had turned the ball over eight times, missed four free throws and were blocked seven times.
After halftime, things tightened up considerably as the Buckeyes found their shot. Ohio State shot a red-hot 51.6 percent from the field in the second half, but one thing remained constant: Every time the Buckeyes closed within three, four or five points, the Gophers knocked down a big shot to stretch the lead back out. Ohio State spent the entire final 20 minutes playing catch up and never caught up.
Jae'Sean Tate makes a layup to get it down to four, Springs hits a 3 to stretch it back to seven. Marc Loving hits a 3 to get it four, four straight points from Mason and Springs to make it eight. JaQuan Lyle gets it to four with a bucket, Lynch gets a basket to make it six. And so it went throughout.
The closest Ohio State got was three points, 62-59, with four minutes to go. But Jordan Murphy hit two free throws, Mason followed with his second made shot of the game, and after a Buckeyes free throw, Springs knocked down a triple to make it a nine-point game with two minutes left.
The teams ended up shooting nearly the same: 41 percent for Minnesota, 40.6 percent for Ohio State. The Gophers made nine 3-pointers compared to just five for the Buckeyes, but Minnesota took an awful lot of 3-point shots that didn't fall, 9-for-24 on the night. The difference came at the free-throw line, where Ohio State was just 11-for-21, missing 10 shots from the stripe. Minnesota was a much for efficient and productive 19-for-27.
The Gophers got 20 points from their bench — huge on Mason's off night — and blocked a jaw-dropping 12 shots.
Tate finished as the high man in the game with 20 points. Ohio State got double-digit scoring performances from Trevor Thompson (15 points) and Lyle (12 points).
The win bumped Minnesota up to 15-2 overall and 3-1 in Big Ten play. Two straight road games follow over the next week, with a Wednesday trip to Michigan State and a Saturday visit to Penn State.
The loss dropped Ohio State to a winless 0-3 in the Big Ten and 10-6 overall. The Buckeyes play at Wisconsin on Thursday and at home against Michigan State next Sunday.