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By Rusty Miller | Associated Press
COLUMBUS -- Coach Thad Matta was angry that his listless Ohio State Buckeyes were down by 10 points at halftime.
Still, he didn’t summon any inspiring speeches or draw up fancy plays. Instead, the message was simple.
“In essence, I just said there’s nothing I can draw up on the board, there’s nothing we can really talk about it until we play better basketball,” he said after his No. 24 Buckeyes outscored Minnesota 46-18 in the second half to roll to a 64-46 victory on Saturday night.
There were a few boos from a disenchanted crowd as the team left the court at the break. The players didn’t really blame them or their coach.
“(Coach Matta) was fired up. He wasn’t too happy with us,” said Sam Thompson, who scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half including a personal 10-0 spurt that put the game out of reach. “He just flat out told us to play better. There were no X’s and O’s and no diagrams or anything. He just told us to play better.”
Lenzelle Smith Jr. added 13 points and Shannon Scott 10 for the Buckeyes (22-6, 9-6 Big Ten), who trailed by 12 early in the second half before taking control with a 17-0 run.
LaQuinton Ross, who had nine points and six rebounds, and Amir Williams, with seven points and four blocked shots, also made big contributions. Aaron Craft had six points, five assists and four steals.
Ross knew this was a tipping point for the team.
“Every game here on out is a desperation game for us,” he said. “The guys in the locker room know that, too, especially going into the NCAA Tournament.”
The Buckeyes have won six of seven games in February after a dismal 2-5 mark in January. The win was their seventh in a row in Columbus against Minnesota.
The 19 points was a season high for Thompson, who had not scored in double figures in eight games in a row before hitting for 11 in Wednesday night’s 76-60 win over Northwestern. The junior came within a point of his career high.
Ohio State seemed to show some energy early in the second half when Smith drove the lane before Craft then stole the ball and drove end-to-end for a layup. Williams then got behind the Minnesota defense for a dunk. Ross then blocked a shot with Craft throwing a long pass to Thompson for a breakaway dunk that excited the crowd of 18,809, cutting a 12-point lead to 30-28.
Ross then picked up a loose ball, popped in a shot in traffic and was fouled, finishing off the three-point play for a 31-30 lead.
After a Minnesota miss, Smith missed on a drive, but Ross rebounded and scored. Craft then stole the ball from Elliott Eliason along the baseline and raced to the other end, going the distance for a layup to stretch the run to 17-0 and give the Buckeyes a 35-30 lead.
Ross had five points and Craft and Smith each had four in the spurt.
Thompson then took over, scoring 10 straight points for Ohio State and the lead never fell below double figures again.
“Obviously, great first half, awful second half,” said Gophers coach Richard Pitino.”We highjack ourselves. We don’t allow ourselves to win. We do some things turnover-wise that are just inexplicable and they lead to baskets for them. You can’t do that versus a very good team.”
Andre Hollins had 13 points and DeAndre Mathieu added 12 for Minnesota (17-11, 6-9), which has lost six of its last eight games to slide off the NCAA bubble. The Golden Gophers beat the Buckeyes 63-53 at home on Jan. 16 by forcing 18 turnovers and grabbing 15 more rebounds.
This time Ohio State won the board battle 35-25 and had only 11 turnovers.
The Golden Gophers led 7-0 at the outset and 28-18 at the half, shooting 42 percent (10-of-24) while limiting Ohio State to 27 percent (6-of-22).
But the Buckeyes shot 57 percent in the second half to leave the crowd cheering at the end.
“It’s a desperation game from here on out,” Thompson said. “Every game we play is desperation. Every game is a must-win situation. When you play like you have to win, when you play like there’s no tomorrow, good things can happen.”