The Minnesota Golden Gophers returned to action Thursday night at Williams Arena and fell to the Ohio State Buckeyes, 75-64.
The Buckeyes were able to parlay their superior interior bulk to the tune of 20 offensive rebounds and XX second chances points. All-Big Ten junior forward EJ Liddell was an absolute force scoring 23 points and dominating the glass on both ends, garnering 15 rebounds.
Throughout the first half, both squads consistently traded baskets with neither team asserting themselves. This was in part due to the Gophers' zone defense and the ability of Peyton Willis to dissect the Buckeye defense on the top ball-screen. Through a combination of smart drives and dishes, Willis successfully dictated the terms of the Minnesota offense. Despite this acumen from the graduate senior guard, Ohio State dominated the offensive boards leading to 13 first half second-chance points. Freshman guard Malaki Branham led the Buckeye attack with 11 points, excelling from the midrange and on the offensive glass. Liddell thoroughly out-worked all wearing maroon and gold, grabbing seven boards before the break and chipping in seven points.
While Minnesota kept it close and worked the ball for several quality looks from the outside, sophomore forward Jamison Battle, returning from a non-COVID illness after missing two games, couldn’t find his legs and forced several looks early.
The second half began with the Buckeyes going to the paint early and often. After falling in love with the three-pointer in the first half, Ohio State made a point to attack the mid and low post and offensive boards in the early proceedings of the second half to balloon their lead to 12. The likes of Zed Key, Kyle Young, and the aforementioned Liddell repeatedly attacked the glass with an adept combination of ferocity and deftness that lead to a series of layups, jump hooks, and put backs. This found the Gophers scrambling on offense, often forcing contested looks early in the shot clock.
Near the midway point of the second half, Minnesota retreated to their zone again and Battle began to heat up from the floor. However, with the lead cut to six, Ohio State began to once again pour on the aggressiveness in the paint, gathering offensive rebound after offensive rebound. Key was a monster finishing on third and fourth-effort buckets.
Eventually, a combination of Liddell and made threes were far too much for the Gophers and the Buckeyes were able to keep Minnesota at arms length for the last 12 minutes of the game eventually winning by a final 11-point margin.
I thought Treyton Thompson played alright despite often being overpowered on the boards at times. He hit another three on a good pick-and-pop read by Willis and looked almost serviceable on defense. Him continuing to get playing time as the season progresses could portend to future success for the freshman. Additionally, Luke Loewe provided a bit of supportive offensive punch in the first half, making a couple contested jumpers including a three-pointer and continues to be a good glue guy who rarely makes any egregious mistakes.