Minnesota was 3-14 from behind the three point line.
Nobody on Ohio State fouled out of this game.
Soooo, 68-55 Ohio State? Ok, you're right the game was played at the Barn, so the Gophers had to have kept it close despite terrible outside shooting and turning the ball over at an alarming rate. I'll guess 66-60 Buckeyes won. Wait? You're telling me the Gophers won this game? Ok, fine. It must have been an incredibly hideous score, like 50-49 Minnesota. Huh? The Gophers won by double digits?!?!
That's the internal dialogue and struggle one might have after looking at some of the numbers from the box score from last night's game at Williams Arena. But when the clock finally struck zero, the final score read 63-53 in favor of the Golden Gophers, giving Coach Richard Pitino his first career win over a ranked opponent and Minnesota an excellent pelt to add to their growing resume.
While the opening ten minutes of the game probably had Naismith rolling over in his grave, with countless sloppy turnovers, terrible shooting, and an all-around ugly feel, the final 30 minutes showed the resolve and surprising diversity of a Minnesota squad that appears to be squeezing every last bit of talent out of a their roster at the right time. After taking a heavily favored Michigan State team to overtime in East Lansing, Minnesota took on their second consecutive Big Ten pre-conference favorite and passed the test by getting the ball inside, playing good defense, and limiting the Buckeyes to 12-35 (34.3%) from inside the 3-point arch. Compare that number to the Gophers, who were 21-33 (63.6%) and you begin to understand the advantages that Minnesota held throughout the game that allowed them to win were arguably their biggest weaknesses heading into the conference season.
The turning point of the game very well may have hinged on Minnesota's backup center, Maurice Walker, who currently only averages 12.3 minutes and 4.8 points per game. With Ohio State leading 39-38 at the 13 minute mark of the 2nd half, Mo Walker scored on two consecutive offensive positions with great position on the block, drawing two fouls, obviously firing up the crowd and pushing his teammates emotionally to continue the upset bid. After an Austin Hollins steal and Deandre Mathieu finish on the other end, the Gophers had swung the score to their advantage, 45-39, in a matter of one minute and twenty six seconds.
After that sequence of events, Ohio State continued their struggle to score and Minnesota relied on the a Eliott Eliason layup, a dagger of a three from Andre Hollins, and steady free throw shooting from Hollins and Malik Smith. by the time the clock struck zero, the Buckeyes were left in the midst of a three game losing streak and the Gophers had just gained their swagger back after losing close games early in the conference schedule to Michigan and Michigan State.
What shouldn't get lost in the outcome of this single game, however, is the incredible play of one, Elliott Eliason. A player so obscure nationally that his name isn't even spelled correctly in SBNations archives and autotag feature. A player who seemed he would be out of place in Rich Pitino's up-tempo style of play where guard play is emphasized and quickness is of the utmost necessity. A player who supposedly couldn't even beat the coach in a pushup contest when he arrived on campus last spring. Regardless of what he was, he is now a huge difference maker and premier big man in the Big Ten.
Eliason turned in a spectacular performance Thursday night with 12 points on 6-8 shooting from the floor, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks, and only 2 personal fouls in 33 minutes of play. In a game where the final score ended in the low 60s, these were fantastic numbers to accompany a season being overlooked by a majority of the press (besides BTPowerhouse of course) and fans alike. Eliason now places second in the conference in both rebounding percentage and block percentage, to go along with the best offensive rebounding percentage in the conference.
But a lot of what the 6' 11" junior does might not show up in the box score. Recently voted a team captain by his peers, Eliason has been a constant on a Gopher squad that was originally believed to rely heavily on the play of Andre and Austin Hollins. But with Austin undergoing a prolonged slump of epic proportions (5 of 24 from 3-point land in conference play, good for 20.8%) and Andre having difficult getting a large volume of shots, the big center from Chadron, Nebraska has steadied a team that now has believable NCAA tournament aspirations.
Minnesota heads to Iowa City this weekend to tangle with the Hawkeyes now viewed as a legitimate threat to win the conference. They then return home next Wednesday to face the Badgers at the Barn. The win against Ohio State has instilled a confidence that may have been lacking after close calls against the Michigan schools. But if Eliason can continue to rebound at a high rate and Deandre Mathieu continues to his great guard play, this team will most certainly create problems for the conference's elite. While they may not compete for the title themselves, they will having something to say about who finishes in the top line of the standings. And maybe just play their way into the NCAA Tournament.
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