January 26, 2008

Fast start fuels Buckeye win

COLUMBUS - It might not have been a perfect game for the Buckeyes but a quick start fueled by a 27-point, nine assist night from Jamar Butler was just what the doctor ordered as Ohio State (14-6, 5-2) led from buzzer to buzzer en route to a 76-60 win over Minnesota (12-6, 2-4) on Saturday night.

The Buckeyes spread out the scoring well with freshman guard Evan Turner ripping off 17 points, eight rebounds while Kosta Koufos looked good in the paint with 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in a winning effort.

"We were fortunate to get off to a great start," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "Our energy was good, we hit our shorts and were able to get our flow going offensively."

For a team that has gotten off to slow starts the game against the Gophers was a huge surprise with Ohio State opening a 19-3 lead keyed by hot shooting from behind the arc. Turner ripped off two three pointers while David Lighty (5 points, 4 rebounds) and Butler each dialed up one a piece. After a Matt Terwilliger long jumper Ohio State opened up a 16 point lead and the crowd at Value City Arena was making its presence known.

"I thought when the crowd was going crazy it really gave us a lift we needed," Matta said. "They were outstanding tonight."

The offensive output helped the Buckeyes come out and play a stingy defense that kept the Gophers off balance and held Tubby Smith's team to a dismal 30 percent from the field in the first half.

Smith was asked after the game if he had any indication that his team might come out to a slow start against the Buckeyes.

"If I had I would have probably tried to stop it (laugh)," Smith said. "I didn't have any indication."

The Buckeyes kept the lead to double digits most of the way through the first half but relied on Butler's big shots to keep momentum going. Butler had 14 points in the first 20 minutes of the game and his teammates knew it was going to be one of those nights.

"He is one of the best 3-point shooters in the nation," Koufos said. "For me, I want to become a better post player and be able to kick it out to him. We are very fortunate to have a guy like Jamar on our team."

The Gophers knew that they couldn't put all of their focus on Butler but had to find a way to limit the impact of the Ohio State captain.

"He's crafty," Smith said. "He's unselfish and willing to give it up. He's very athletic. He has a good all-around game."

The Buckeyes took a ten point lead to the halftime locker room but for whatever reason this team has been snake bit when it comes to holding big leads and Thad Matta made sure his team knew that this game was far from being in the bag.

"I told our guys they were not going away, so we better finish off the game," Matta said. "I thought our defense was adequate, but we need to clean up our rebounding."

In the second half the Buckeyes opened the lead back up to 13 off of a Butler three pointer but in the next six minutes of the game watched the lead shrink down to three on a 16-6 Gopher run. Damian Johnson came up big with eight points off the bench while Dan Coleman led the Gophers with 14 points.

"They really didn't change anything," Butler said. "We just took our foot off the pedal and kind of relaxed on defense and they got into the seams of our zone and just made plays."

The tide turned back to the Buckeyes around the ten minute mark with a run sparked by Terwilliger on the receiving end of an alley-oop dunk and in the span of around 90 seconds the lead doubled from six points to 12 points.

"I think we fed off the crowd tonight," Butler said. "They gave us juice and energy."

The Gophers were hit with a technical foul which drove the near sell-out crowd wild at the Schott but the Buckeyes gave a little of that momentum back when Butler was hit for his own technical foul just minutes later.

The damage was done by that point and even though the Gophers tried to keep it close the Buckeyes kept Minnesota at arms length the rest of the way. Of note Butler saw his consecutive free throw streak end at 38 straight makes with a miss at the 7:27 mark. Butler laughed it off after the game joking about his percentage maybe dropping a couple of points.

After a pair of home games the Buckeyes now turn their attention to going back on the road with games at Penn State and Iowa on the schedule before the Wolverines come to Columbus in early February.

Stat leaders
Ohio State - Butler 27, Turner 17, Koufos 15, Hunter 6
Minnesota - Coleman 14, McKenzie 10, Westbrook 9, Two tied at 8

Ohio State - Koufos 8, Hunter 8, Turner 8
Minnesota - Westbrook 7, Johnson 6, Coleman 6

Ohio State - Butler 9, Turner 4
Minnesota - Johnson 5, McKenzie 4

Ohio State - Koufos 3, Hunter 2, Turner 2
Minnesota - Johnson 1

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