COLUMBUS, Ohio - For 30 minutes of Sunday's game it appeared that the Buckeyes were well on their way to yet another easy game in front of a near sellout crowd but a fast flurry by the Golden Gophers made things uncomfortably tight as William Buford had to block a three pointer by Austin Hollins to preserve a 67-64 Ohio State (16-0, 3-0) win over Minnesota (12-4, 1-3).
David Lighty led the scorers with 19 points and picked up his 111th career win at Ohio State to make him the all-time wins leader (breaking the record set last year by Mark Titus and Danny Peters). Jared Sullinger netted his 8th career double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Trevor Mbakwe led Minnesota with 16 points and 12 rebounds of his own.
At the 8:31 mark of the second half Lighty drained a three pointer to give the Buckeyes a then 55-37 lead and it appeared that the team would be able to put things into cruise control before Minnesota would go on a 14-3 run and outscore the Buckeyes 27-12 down the stretch.
"I was about as proud as I could be with our defense probably for about the first 30 or 32 minutes of the game and then down the stretch we were in all kinds of foul trouble," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "It was an odd twist being up 18 there in the second half and there were a couple of plays that happened that really turned the momentum and we just have got to be tougher and play through that."
Ohio State found its way into foul trouble down the stretch and saw Minnesota convert on 19 of 19 free throws in the second half of the game.
"It got a little hectic," Lighty said. "We have just got to keep our head. Things didn't go our way but I think we just stuck in there and found a way to win."
The Buckeyes were not overly dominant in the first half offensively shooting 39-percent from the field but the team held the Gophers to 22 points on 8-21 shooting in the first 20 minutes. Guard Al Nolen was taken out of his rhythm in the first half shooting 0-5 (2-10 for the game) and shut down from beyond the arc.
Ohio State on the other hand had some success from beyond the arc with Lighty hitting three long range shots and Craft and Jon Diebler each hitting two.
Both teams however were sloppy with the ball and committed a combined 27 turnovers (15 for Minnesota, 12 for Ohio State), uncharacteristic stats for both teams.
"We just kind of tried to play a little stall ball here and there and that is not what got us the lead in the first place," Craft said. "Give them the credit because they came up and started pressuring us and that got us a little flustered and it took us a while to get adjusted to it."
Things didn't get any easier for Ohio State when Lighty fouled out with 2:30 to go in the game. William Buford and Aaron Craft each picked up four fouls in the game but it was difficult for Lighty to ride the pine for the final 150 seconds.
"It was real hard," Lighty said. "It's the most nervous I have probably ever been because there was nothing I could do about it. I can't get back into the game and help my team win so that is probably as bad of a feeling as I have ever had since I have been here. I have got to find ways to stay in the game."
Both teams were unhappy with the way that the game was being called and both coaches did their best to show restraint on the sideline but it was obvious to any of the 17-thousand plus fans in attendance that both coaches were walking a fine line.
That couldn't have been more evident than on the final play of the game. The Buford block was viewed two different ways, dependent upon which team you were pulling for. The Ohio State side of things saw it from one perspective.
"We told them to give him the two but don't give him the three and Will got a good challenge and we were fortunate to come away with it," Matta said.
Minnesota on the other hand saw it from a different light and when head coach Tubby Smith was asked post game about how the play was drawn up he was short and concise with his answer.
"The ball is supposed to go into the basket," Smith said. "But it was a foul."
The Gophers made an effort to try and limit the role of Sullinger in the game and for the most part Minnesota was happy with the result.
"I thought that was one of our goals coming in, making him work for his shots," Smith said. "We wanted to make someone else make shots and they did."
Matta recognized that it was a tough effort to score points but singled out his big man as he continues to learn the difference of Big Ten play versus the non-conference schedule.
"We weren't making shots today and our execution wasn't as good as it needed to be and it was about as physical as I have ever seen inside there," Matta said. "Jared had blood on his uniform, banged up and that is just how the game went."
Ohio State will take the show on the road to Michigan on Wednesday to take on the Wolverines. A win against Michigan will put the 2010-11 team in the record book tying the 17-0 start by the 1990-91 team.