After laying the proverbial egg against Michigan State, the Golden Gophers rebounded (figuratively and literally) Saturday against the #23 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
The Gophers did just about everything at a higher level than they did against the Spartans. Offensively, the team moved without the basketball very well after the first 10 minutes during which the Buckeyes' 2-3 zone caused some problems. The Gophers got the ball into the paint against the zone, rotated the ball extremely well and crashed the offensive boards. Minnesota ended the game with 13 offensive rebounds. Ohio State had 7.
On the defensive glass, the Gophers were much more aggressive. At one point Lawrence Westbrook put his rear end so far into a Buckeye he pushed the Buckeye from the paint all the way out to the three point line. It was a team effort on the defensive glass, sparked by the efforts of Damian Johnson, Paul Carter, Colton IVerson and Ralph Sampson III.
While the effort and focus on little things made this victory possible, so too did a first half defensive adjustment Tubby Smith probably made while cringing inside. Tubby's always been a proponent of man-to-man defense, but early in the game Ohio State, and Evan Turner specifically, were having their way with Minnesota in the half-court set. Then out of nowhere, with the Gophers trailing 22-15, Tubby switched to a 2-3 zone. The Buckeyes had no answer for a long stretch of the first half and the Gophers went on such an extended run that they ended the half up 34-24.
That move came at a time when Al Nolen found himself on the bench with two early fouls. It was a Devoe Joseph led comeback, as the freshman played his best game in maroon and gold. As the Gophers were forcing bad shots out of the 2-3 zone, they were able to rebound and then push in transition, much to the credit of Joseph, who led a fast-paced, but controlled, Minnesota attack.
Ohio State threatened a couple second half comebacks, but Minnesota's first half lead and second-half defensive pressure was too much to overcome.
Damian Johnson had another one of his stat-sheet filling games. He finished with 12 points, 6 reboudns, 4 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks. He played 34 minutes and didn't turn the ball over once. When the time comes, DJ Swat or Sweet D, whatever you want to call him, ought to be under serious consideration for Big Ten defensive player of the year honors.
The win puts the Gophers at 1-1 in the confernce and improves the Gophers to 2-1 against ranked opponents this season. Splitting these two games at home this week should be good enough to keep the Gophers in the top-25.
Before we move on to begin looking at the Iowa game scheduled for Thursday, there are a few players and topics I'd like to focus on.
Paul Carter: The sophomore transfer had his best game as a Gopher. His size and athleticism helped on the boards. He played just 10 minutes, but they were highly effecgtive minutes. He was just 1-5 from the floor, and is shooting an abysmal 29 percent from the floor this season. But those numbers are bound to turn around because Carter is shooting fairly high-quality shots. I hope to see Carter's minutes grow as the conference season progresses.
Minnesota Twins fans will understand this reference: I kind of feel like Paul Carter is the Gophers version of Jason Kubel. He seems to have the talent to be a difference maker but isn't seeing the floor enough. This is somewhat explainable because Carter missed a decent chunk of the non-conference slate with an injury. But now back healthy, can we free Paul Carter?
Devoe Joseph: The Candaian wasn't perfect. He tried to dribble throuh an OSU press in the final minutes and turned the ball over. But for a large stretch in the first half, with Nolen out, Joseph was a very important catalyst. One year ago, had Nolen found foul trouble, the Gophers would have struggled with Westbrook or Lawrence McKenzie trying to run the offense.
Rebounding: Yes, reboudning was much improved. But let's not forget that Ohio State's rebounding isn't in the same class as Michigan State's. Seven-footer BJ Mullens played just 19 minutes. Dallas Lauderdale was infuriating Thad Matta all afternoon. Aside from those two, Ohio State isn't exactly a team made up of traditional rebounding types.
Getting to the foul line: Maybe it was just one of those basketball oddities, but the Gophers had been to the line a total of 4 times (all Paul Carter makes) before Ohio State started fouling in the final two minutes. Now, there were a few occasions when the Gophers probably could have been awarded two shots but the whistles were largely put away. For a team that is inconsistent at best in the half-court set, getting to the free throw line is very important.
There's no easy answer for this team in that department. The Gophers don't really have a guard who can penetrate and finish (though Nolen's good at penetrating and drawing fouls). And we don't have a dominant big man (yet). But four free throws through 38 minutes is troubling.
Up Next: The Gophers travel to Iowa for the first Big Ten road game, and first road game since the narrow win at Colorado State.