Gophers' comeback bid falls just short against Ohio State
By Rusty Miller, AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Neither Minnesota coach Tubby Smith nor Ohio State's Thad Matta was happy with the officiating.
Gentlemen, welcome to the hand-to-hand combat annually known as the Big Ten's regular season.
No. 2 Ohio State survived a scare when Austin Hollins' 3-pointer came up short in the final seconds, allowing the Buckeyes to remain unbeaten with a 67-64 victory over Minnesota on Sunday.
Smith felt Hollins was fouled by William Buford, who got a piece of the shot.
"It was a foul. It was a foul. Any other questions?" Smith said after the game. Asked again about the sequence, he said, "I didn't make the call, so. ... That's just my opinion."
Matta also was displeased, hinting that the game tilted on a couple of questionable foul calls.
"It was an odd twist being up 18 there in the second half and there were a couple of plays there that happened that really, really turned the momentum," he said. Asked to elaborate he smiled and said, "I don't think I can say what they were."
The Buckeyes (16-0, 3-0 Big Ten) held a big lead before the Golden Gophers (12-4, 1-3) rallied to pull within 67-64 on Al Nolen's two free throws with 44.6 seconds left.
Smith elected to foul Ohio State's Dallas Lauderdale, a 33-percent free throw shooter, and he missed both with 28.5 seconds left.
The Gophers missed two shots inside before taking the ball out underneath the basket with 15 seconds remaining. With time running out, Nolen fed Hollins who got off a shot with 1 second left that Buford got a hand on.
David Lighty led the Buckeyes with 19 points, while Jared Sullinger had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Buckeyes. Sullinger's freshman classmate, point guard Aaron Craft, came off the bench to score 11 points with seven assists.
Asked what he learned from the game about Big Ten play, Sullinger said it was the lack of sympathy.
"It was real physical down in the paint," he said. "The refs just look at you like, 'Uh, this is the Big Ten.'"
Trevor Mbakwe totaled 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Golden Gophers, with Nolen adding 11 points.
"We just need to get back to the friendly confines of 'The Barn'," Smith said, referring to Williams Arena, where the Golden Gophers have won eight of nine games.
The Buckeyes played large segments of the game without Lauderdale and Lighty due to foul trouble. Lighty, who received the game ball for playing in an Ohio State-record 111th career victory, fouled out with 2:30 left.
"It got a little hectic," Lighty said of the last few minutes. "We just have to keep our heads. Things didn't go our way, but we stuck in there and found a way to win."
Ahead by 10 at halftime, the Buckeyes stretched it with Lighty -- back in after several minutes on the bench -- hitting consecutive 3s to push the lead to 55-37 with 8:30 left.
Minnesota countered with an 8-0 run -- half of the points coming at the line -- to pull to 55-45. After a free throw by Sullinger and two foul shots apiece by Mbakwe and Williams it was 56-49.
"Their pressure kind of got us out of our offense, out of our flow," Craft said. "We kind of tried to play a little stall ball here and there. That's not what got us the lead in the first place. But give them the credit, they came up and started pressuring us and got us a little flustered and it took us a while to get adjusted to it."
The Golden Gophers, who hit all 19 of their free throws in the second half and finished 24 of 27 at the line, hit four foul shots in the last minute to draw within three points and set up the wild finish.
"I was as proud as I could be with our defense the first 30 or 32 minutes of the game," Matta said. "Then down the stretch, we were in all kinds of foul trouble. We started fouling and putting them on the free-throw line."
Smith was disheartened that his team fought hard but came up short.
"It is a tough place to play. But we've lost three of these (in the Big Ten) now," he said, his voice trailing off. "The results have been the same. But I think we're learning a little bit more. Now we have to transition from that ... because losing doesn't help you."