COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State continues to reap benefits from its upset of then-No. 4 Kentucky on Dec. 19.
The experience gained in the 74-67 win helped the Buckeyes settle down after blowing a 15-point lead against Minnesota on Wednesday night in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
Holding a one-point advantage early in the second half, the Buckeyes (9-5) pulled away for a 78-63 victory behind Marc Loving’s 20 points and 13 assists from freshman guard JaQuan Lyle.
“I told our guys that it was reminiscent of a couple of Saturdays ago, where we got up early and now we need to find a way to put a run together and execute better,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “Defensively, I thought we did a great job. They did a good job of moving us around, but there was a game plan we wanted to stick to and our guys did a pretty good job.”
Keita Bates-Diop added 13 points and Jae’Sean Tate 10 for the Buckeyes, who had 24 assists, double their season average.
“It was guys knocking down shots,” Lyle said of his career high in assists. “Making plays as well. For me personally it was sitting down, digesting film and talking to the guys on where they like to get the ball at.”
Carlos Morris scored 18 points, Jordan Murphy 11 and Nate Mason 10 for the Golden Gophers (6-7).
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said the outcome was in doubt until Murphy, a freshman averaging 10.8 points and 8.8 rebounds, got his fourth foul with 13:47 left in the game and the Gophers down 45-42.
When Murphy re-entered with 6:34 left, the Gophers were trailing 65-49.
“The game changed when Jordan Murphy got his fourth foul,” Pitino said. “He kept fouling. He got four fouls in 22 minutes. That’s not a good ratio for how long he’s been playing, and they weren’t good fouls. He can’t get in foul trouble. He’s got to learn from it.”
Kam Williams came off the bench to score five points in the Buckeyes’ surge during Murphy’s absence. Loving had five points and reserve center David Bell four points during the stretch.
Loving, averaging 13.9 points, had a combined 10 points in the previous two games, going 0 for 7 on 3-pointers. He hit 3 of 5 3s against the Gophers.
“It felt good to see the ball go through the rim,” he said.
HILL TO CLIMB
The Golden Gophers clawed their way back from a 26-21 deficit to trail 37-34 at the half and led 39-37 at the onset of the second half but paid a price. “It takes a little life out of you,” to come back, Pitino said. “They threw a punch. We threw a punch then they threw a punch to end it.”
Loving said halftime allowed the Buckeyes to regroup, “We went on a little mental lapse. They went on a run, 8-0 or something like that. We had to get back in the swing of things, moving the ball, executing our system.”
Minnesota: The Gophers have lost two straight. … This was the first time Minnesota faced the Buckeyes in a conference opener since a 49-47 loss in Columbus on Jan. 7, 1982.
Ohio State: Matta is 9-3 in conference openers, including 6-1 in Value City Arena. .. The backcourt duo of Lyle and A.J. Harris, another freshman, had 17 assists and three turnovers.
Minnesota hosts No. 1 Michigan State on Saturday afternoon. The Spartans lost to Iowa, 83-70, on Tuesday.
Ohio State hosts Illinois on Sunday.