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Gophers outmuscled in a 75-64 loss to Ohio State

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Minnesota
Minnesota Gophers guard Abdoulaye Thiam (2) and Ohio State Buckeyes guard Cedric Russell (2) and guard Eugene Brown III (3) fight for the ball during the first half Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
Harrison Barden / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS —The first half between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Ohio State on Thursday went down like a pleasant aperitif. In the second half, however, Minnesota ate glass.

The underdog Gophers went blow for blow with No. 16 Ohio State and trailed only 32-30 at the break. With 11 lead changes and four ties, it looked like Minnesota would nourish fans to a consecutive thriller akin to the 68-65 win over Rutgers on Saturday.

But a hefty disadvantage in rebounding — err, on the glass — continued to stack up and led to a big margin in second-chance points to propel the Buckeyes’ 75-64 win at Williams Arena.

Ohio State’s bigger size and strength was the primary separator in the second half, while an already thin Minnesota front-court had its best post player, Eric Curry, out injured. Then backup center Charlie Daniels got in foul trouble and true freshman Treyton Thompson had to do more.

The Buckeyes out-rebounded the Gophers 48-22 and had a huge 27-6 advantage in second-chance points.

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NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Minnesota
Minnesota Gophers guard E.J. Stephens jumps to keep the ball in bounds during the second half against the Ohio State Buckeyes on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
Harrison Barden / USA Today Sports

“I think that was everything, really,” Gophers head coach Ben Johnson said. “It didn’t matter what lineup we had in there — just could not find a way to get the ball.”

Ohio State, a five-point favorite, improved to 13-4 and 6-2 in the Big Ten, and Minnesota fell to 11-6, 2-6. The U has lost five of six Big Ten games to start 2022.

The Buckeyes boast a bruising lineup of 6-foot-7 E.J. Liddell and Kyle Young and Zed Key, both 6-8. They were the force, combining for 49 points and 19 rebounds.

“Those guys are some beasts,” Johnson said. “There’s a reason why they are the 16th team in the country. … I told (my players) before the game: ‘This is going to be the most physical team probably that we have played to date.’ ”

Even with the biggest Barnyard student section of the season, Minnesota’s hopes coming out of the half were soon dashed. They surrendered a 3-pointer to Justin Ahrens on the first possession of the second half and a 3-point play Liddell. Ohio State didn’t look back.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Minnesota
Ohio State Buckeyes guard Malaki Branham (22) shoots the ball as Minnesota Gophers guard Payton Willis (0) guards him during the second half Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
Harrison Barden / USA Today Sports

Liddell had got off to a slow start, missing three of his first four shots, but made 3 of 4 to finish the opening 20 minutes with nine points. He eclipsed 1,000 career points in the second half and finished with 23 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.

Jamison Battle, the U’s leading scorer at 18 points per game, returned after a one-game absence due to a non-COVID-19 illness. He missed his first six shots and finished the first half 1 for 9 from the field. He was slightly better in the second half and finished with a team-high 15 points.

“Fatigue was a factor, but I think that is an excuse for how I played,” Battle said. “I feel like there was still a lot more I could have done regardless of being fatigued. You got to go out there and bring energy and I felt like I was lacking in that (Thursday). I got to respond next game.”

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The Gophers play Wisconsin in Madison at noon Sunday.

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