Buckeyes jump out to a 2o-point first half lead, then see Minnesota big man Dawson Garcia ignite for 28 second half points, 36 for the game, before outscoring the Gophers in the final two minutes for a conference-opening win.
There are three-point shots; and then there are three point shots!
And the Ohio State Buckeyes used a trio of those shots to get off to a hot start Sunday in their Big Ten opener against Minnesota…Roddy Gayle and Jamison Battle canning big bombs to push the Buckeyes out to an opening 11-2 lead.
Confidence is such a big part of Big Ten basketball, and just that much of a confident start was huge in an eventual 84-74 win over the 5-3 Golden Gophers.
Moreover, when you have multiple people who can share the basketball, and shoot the basketball, it makes the possibilities of consistency all the more likely as the Buckeyes get deeper into the Big Ten schedule after New Year’s. Gayle, Bruce Thornton, and Scotty Middleton off the bench…and a huge second half by Battle were paramount in the Buckeyes gaining their 7th win of the season.
They attacked the rim, pushing out to a 26-12 lead at the midpoint of the first half, but Minnesota coach Ben Johnson actually credited the defense for a frustratingly slow start by the Gophers.
“They were the aggressor,” said Johnson. “They punched us in the mouth and we just took it. We’ve got to find a way to get off to better starts against good teams. Their guards are strong, and good defensively, and that gave them momentum on both sides of the ball for the first twenty minutes. And in this league you’ve got to be ready from the jump.”
The lead grew to 42-22 by the two minute point of the half, only to slip away with three bad defensive efforts on Minnesota’s final three possessions that allowed the Gophers to cut the deficit to 42-28 at the break.
Still…the good news, offensively, was the fast start that saw Thornton (12), Gayle (10) and Battle (10) all score in double figures. As it turned out, they would need those points.
Whatever Ben Johnson preached at halftime…it lit fire under the Gophers when they came out for the second twenty minutes. Dawson Garcia, a 6’11” junior, who was averaging 18.3 points entering the game, went off for 28 in the second half against that same Ohio State defense, that suddenly had no answer in the paint against what Chris Holtmann called one of the Big Ten’s best as a front court scorer.
It didn’t matter who guarded him. Felix Okpara tried, but Garcia was able to back away from the rim and shoot over Okpara. If Okpara closed in on him, he could dribble drive and score.
Mismatches with Bruce Thornton and Evan Mahaffie definitely went Garcia’s way, as the points piled up and the Buckeyes’ lead dwindled precipitously.
Thornton and Battle, however, kept attacking the rim. Thornton would eventually finish with 26 – drives to the rim, contact, and free throws made. Battle, took advantage of space allowed, and finished with hitting 4 of 6 from three point range, matching almost point-for-point Garcia’s barrage when the score dipped into single digits.
Again, there are three-pointers, and then there are three-pointers. Garcia’s 36 turned out to be the new record for opponents scoring at Value City Arena, and when Minnesota closed to within 6 points, at 70-64 with 3:00 remaining. Battle, Thornton and Gayle all responded.
First it was Battle with a long three from the wing to push the lead back to 9 points.
On the succeeding possession, it was Thornton who rained one in from the top of the key at 2:30.
And then, at 1:58, Gayle nailed one from in front of the Ohio State bench…three bombs in the span of 60 seconds to seal the win and finally push back on Garcia and his record night.
“I have confidence in everybody to make those kind of shots,” said Thornton, afterwards. “When you have that kind of confidence in your teammates you think every shot’s going to go in. We practice that, and I have that kind of confidence in my teammates to make those shots.”
“When those three-point shots weren’t falling a month ago I told you that we’d keep working at it, and it’s paid off. But you can’t be satisfied in this league. You’ve got to keep working.”
He was asked if the 25 points were more satisfying, coming against his former team.
“Dawson Garcia was my roommate last year, and we’ve played together for five years. He works his butt off and I have the utmost respect for him and for that team. We’ve been through battles together.”
Chris Holtmann appreciated the start – those early three pointers that set the early tone – but had some issues with the being outscored 46-42 by Garcia and Minnesota in the second half.
“Their front line is terrific,” said Holtmann. “We knew Garcia and Payne would be a challenge, and they’ve got other good shooting. Ben (Johnson) puts them in good spots so it was a good win for our guys, good to start 1-0 [in the league], and I’m proud of our guys for withstanding the run in the second half.
“I thought we played well, but we’ve obviously got to do some things better. We’ve got to finish the first half better, and do some things in the second half better, as well. But I liked our poise playing down the stretch. Garcia is so capable, we knew that from last year. And they had other good shooters on the court during that stretch [in the second half].
“The three pointers at the end were big…staved off the run. They had a five-point possession coming out of a timeout, which I didn’t love. But we had guys playing with high levels of confidence, we also shared the ball, and one of those shots came off an offensive rebound, which was critical. We got an extra possession. But our offense wasn’t the issue. We’ve got to be better.”
There are more Dawson Garcias to come in the weeks ahead, to Holtmann’s point.
But to Bruce Thornton’s point about having grown up through the frustrations of last season…this team did play with confidence down the stretch, hit the big shots when big shots were necessary, and came away with another convincing win.
Battle finished with 25, Thornton with 26, and Roddy Gayle was the third Buckeye to score in double figures with 16. Scotty Middleton had 8 off the bench, highlighted by a pair of three-pointers.
The Buckeyes shot 49.1% from the floor, hit 9 of 17 from behind the arc (52.9%), and converted 23 of 28 from the foul line (82.1%).
“But you’re never satisfied in this league,” Jamison Battle reminded. “You can be satisfied for the moment, but then you’ve got to get back to work.”
As if he’d read the coach’s mind, perhaps, but not really. This is Jamison Battle’s third team and his fifth year in college basketball.
By this point he has a mind of his own.