COLUMBUS — Ohio State forward Jamison Battle scored a season-high 25 points against his former Minnesota basketball team as the Buckeyes (7-1, 1-0) got their Big Ten season off to a great start with an 84-74 win over Minnesota (5-3, 0-1).
Battle, who transferred to Ohio State from Minnesota this offseason, hit 7-of-12 shots from the field — including 4-of-6 from three-point territory, and all seven of his free throw attempts. He also pulled down seven rebounds in his 34 minutes of action.
Minnesota forward Dawson Garcia led all scorers with 36 points. He hit 12-of-25 shots from the field and 12-of-14 free throws.
Buckeye point guard Bruce Thornton led all Ohio State scorers with 26 points on 8-of-12 shooting. He also handed out five assists. Backcourt mate Roddy Gayle added in 15 points. Center Felix Okpara pulled down seven rebounds and blocked five shots.
Ohio State led by double digits throughout most of the game, stretching it to 22 points at 42-20 late in the first half. The Gophers cut a 20-point second-half lead down to six points with 3:24 remaining, but the response from Ohio State was emphatic and dramatic.
The Buckeyes hit threes on three-consecutive possessions in the final three minutes of the game to turn a six-point contest into an 81-70 lead with 1:48 remaining and effectively ended the Gophers’ hopes. It was an impressive and confident stretch for the Buckeyes as the first three came from Battle, followed by Thornton and then Gayle, and each with plenty of time remaining on the shot clock.
Up next for the Buckeyes is a non-conference tilt against Miami (Ohio) on Wednesday at 7:00 pm. The game will be streamed on B1G+.
It is a fun thing watching a point guard in complete control of his offensive game. That’s where sophomore Bruce Thornton is right now for the Buckeyes. Scoring 26 points on just 12 field goal attempts is about as efficient as you can get. Thornton didn’t settle for threes and instead took his man off the dribble and repeatedly got to the basket, as evidence by his 8-of-12 shooting and 9-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. He not only has the basketball on a string right now, he knows where the rim is and he’s finishing very effectively.
Veteran Depth Up The Middle
The depth of this team is better than in recent years if for no other reason than the Buckeyes have two veterans up the middle coming off of the bench. Zed Key is an experienced starter who gives the Buckeyes positive minutes off of the bench more often than not. The addition of point guard Dale Bonner out of the portal gives the Buckeyes an experienced ball handler who can give Bruce Thornton a break. Having Bonner come off the bench is a luxury for this team because in years past a player like Bonner would generally be Chris Holtmann’s starting point guard. There isn’t the need for that kind of reliance, and instead the Buckeyes can count on him for what he’s best at — pushing the ball, giving Thornton a breather, and keeping the offense and defense on track.
The Buckeyes have very good length on offense and defense, but too often at the end of that length are hands that haven’t been good enough at holding on to the basketball. This was especially true for Ohio State’s big men Zed Key and Felix Okpara on the night as passes and rebounds were mishandled or fumbled more often than a coach likes to see. Okpara’s need to gather himself on offense before going up also gives the opponent time to attack the basketball before it’s back out of reach. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, they’re scoring everywhere else well enough right now to withstand a few empty possessions in the paint.