Elliott Eliason had 12 points and 13 rebounds to help Minnesota muscle past 11th-ranked Ohio State for a 63-53 victory Thursday night that stuck the Buckeyes with their third straight loss.
DeAndre Mathieu had 13 points, five assists and three steals for the Golden Gophers (14-4, 3-2 Big Ten), who gave new coach Richard Pitino his first signature win. They did it by backing down the Buckeyes and owning the area around the basket, posting a 38-20 advantage in points in the paint and a 39-24 rebounding edge.
LaQuinton Ross scored 22 points for the Buckeyes (15-3, 2-3), who are on a three-game losing streak for the first time in almost four years. The other four Ohio State starters combined for only 19 points, and the conference's second-worst free throw shooting team went 11 for 18 from the foul line.
Minnesota beat Ohio State for the first time in seven meetings, a feat last accomplished here in 2010.
Against a Gophers team that leads the Big Ten in steals, the Buckeyes took better care of the ball after totaling 38 turnovers over the previous two games, but their struggles getting shots to go down was too much to overcome.
They lost last week at Michigan State and then at home to Iowa, hardly blemishes on their record, but they're going to have to snap out of this slide soon to keep up in the top-heavy Big Ten. The Buckeyes fell to 25-4 following losses over the last five seasons. The last time they dropped three in a row was February 2009, at Wisconsin, at Northwestern and against Illinois.
Eliason wasn't the only one working inside for Minnesota. His backup, Mo Walker, converted consecutive spin moves to draw fouls both times, good for a five-point spurt. He even had a steal to set up a fast break a few minutes later. Oto Osenieks added eight points, all near the basket.
Then the Gophers went to their guards to break open the game down the stretch.
Andre Hollins swished a corner 3-pointer inside the 3-minute mark to make it 55-46, and Austin Hollins followed with a steal and a layup to push the lead to double digits.
The Gophers are in a relentless four-game stretch that's remarkable even for this deep, difficult league. After losing in overtime at fifth-ranked Michigan State last weekend, here came the grumpy Buckeyes on a rare losing streak. Minnesota then plays at No. 14 Iowa on Sunday and hosts Wisconsin, ranked third in the Associated Press poll this week, next Wednesday.
The Buckeyes had trouble making their shots early, and the Gophers struggled to take them. The result, naturally, was a 29-all halftime tie that belied the intensity and athleticism on the court.
Ohio State's man-to-man defense, which allowed a Big Ten-best 57.6 points per game entering the night, a figure also tied for sixth-stingiest in the nation, made open jump shots and driving lanes nearly nonexistent for Minnesota in the first half. The Gophers had eight turnovers in the first 8 minutes, but they came up with enough steals, screens and back-door cuts to produce some offense.
Eliason, the 6-foot-11 junior whose post game has begun to emerge as a valuable complement to his shot-blocking and rebounding ability, powered up for a layup in traffic with 3:16 left before the break and drew a foul on Marc Loving. Eliason missed the free throw, but Osenieks soared in for the putback and a 27-21 lead for Minnesota.
Ross, Ohio State's leading scorer, was up to his usual all-over-the-court contributions. He flicked in a floater from the lane with 2 seconds remaining to forge the tie. Then, early in the second half, the lanky 6-foot-8 junior swished consecutive 3-pointers for the Buckeyes to give them the lead again at 38-36.