The Buckeyes bounced back on the road on Tuesday night behind 24 points and eight rebounds from William Buford as the team took control early in the game and despite a few weak moments stayed in control for a 78-68 win over Minnesota to take a temporary half-game lead in the Big Ten conference race.
The Bucks had responded well after losses this season in winning the following game by an average of 24 points. Tuesday's game was the first time that Ohio State had to answer on the road and the team seemed to respond well behind Buford.
Buford came off of a 2-12 shooting night against Michigan State to his the first seven points of the night for the Buckeyes and had 12 points in the first half. The Bucks couldn't miss early and hit nine of their first 11 shots of the night and opened up a 20 point lead on a 20-0 run and got the lead up to as many as 21 after Sullinger hit a three-pointer.
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta had been criticized in the blogosphere lately for not playing his bench enough and early in the game he did with Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and Jordan Sibert all logging early minutes. A good portion of Ohio State's run came with Buford, Sullinger and Craft on the bench.
But the Buckeyes have had a hard time maintaining focus with big leads this season, at least in the first half and that was no different in the Minnesota game and the Gophers used a 12-1 run to tighten things up to ten points in the closing moments of the half. The lead at halftime would be 12 however after Buford hit an extremely difficult baseline jumper with seconds remaining.
While Minnesota was charging back the Buckeyes were struggling with the zone defense that was employed by Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith. The Buckeyes hit on 4-16 shots the rest of the way in the half and by the team's admission, settled for too many jump shots.
Ohio State would come out well in the second half and after a Craft jumper, Thomas hit a three pointer that put Ohio State back up by 17 points and many thought the game would be in hand at that point. But Minnesota is already looking like a bubble team, even at this point of the season and the team needed a win against a high-value opponent and there was plenty of fight left in them.
The Gophers were able to cut the lead single digits after a hook shot by Ralph Sampson III, two of his four points in a night mired with foul trouble.
A made free throw by Williams for Minnesota cut the lead to eight but despite Ohio State going cold one more time from the field the free throw line was kind and the Buckeyes were able to make six of their last eight free throws when they needed them most to preserve the win.
The Buckeyes will stay on the road with a big road game at Michigan on Saturday night with the Big Ten lead on the line. The game tips at 9:00 pm (EST) and will be televised nationally on ESPN.