COLUMBUS — Ohio State staved off a late Minnesota charge in the second half to open up Big Ten play with an 84-74 win over the Golden Gophers on Sunday in Value City Arena.
Sophomore guard Bruce Thornton scored a team-high 26 points to lead Ohio State, his third time scoring at least 25 points in the last four games, and Jamison Battle added 25 points in his first game against his former team for the first time since transferring to Ohio State in April.
Battle connected on four of his six three-point attempts, and his shooting prowess was part of a big shooting night for Ohio State from long distance as the Buckeyes were 9-17 as a team.
Minnesota forward Dawson Garcia scored 28 of his game-high 36 points in the second half to keep Minnesota within striking distance, but the hole dug in the first half proved to be too much to overcome as Ohio State made big shots down the stretch.
“Obviously, that was a hard-fought Big Ten win, and I’m proud of our guys,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said following the game. “I think Minnesota is really good and physical, and the frontline is terrific. We knew Garcia and (Pharrel) Payne were a challenge, and they have good shooting. It’s a good win for our guys and a good way to start (conference play), 1-0, and survived some runs.”
Ohio State jumped out to an 11-2 lead at the first media timeout on the strength of a pair of threes from Battle and one from Roddy Gayle Jr.
Two three-point plays in the span of three possessions from Thornton pushed the Ohio State lead to 24-12, and the lead continued to grow as part of an 11-0 Buckeye run to take a 30-12 advantage and force a Minnesota timeout with under nine minutes left in the half.
Minnesota scored the next five points coming out of the timeout to cut into its deficit, but Ohio State continued to pour in buckets to stretch the lead.
Gayle’s three-point play capped an 8-0 run to give Ohio State its largest lead of the half at 42-20 as Minnesota appeared in danger of being buried by halftime.
A poor close to the half by Ohio State left the door open for Minnesota, though, and the Golden Gophers capitalized with an 8-0 closing run to get within 14 points heading into the break.
Thornton, Gayle, and Battle each scored in double figures in the first half, combining for 32 of Ohio State’s 47 points. As a team, the Buckeyes shot nearly 56% in the opening period and would continue to stay hot to begin the second half.
Five quick points from Thornton turned a 12-point Ohio State lead into a 51-34 advantage at the under-16 media timeout, but Holtmann and the Buckeyes had no answer for Garcia as he began to take over the game.
Garcia scored 22 of Minnesota’s first 31 points of the second half, and his layup with 5:56 remaining cut the Ohio State lead to single digits at 66-57 for the first time since the 10:46 mark of the first half.
The lead shrunk to as few as six points on a Cam Christine jumper, but Ohio State’s red-hot shooting from distance once again came to the Buckeyes’ aid in pivotal moments. With momentum steadily building for Minnesota, Ohio State got a defining offensive stretch from Battle, Thornton, and Gayle.
The trio connected on threes on three consecutive possessions to put the game away for good as Ohio State increased its lead to 11 points with under two minutes to play, thwarting Minnesota’s comeback bid.
Ohio State returns to action on Wednesday when it hosts the Miami Redhawks in Value City Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.