This is Gophers basketball.
Hang with anyone. Make games close at the end. Thrive in spurts of dominance.
But when it comes to beating teams? That's a different story.
Unfortunately for the Gophers, it's been the tale of the season, and after squandering another opportunity to make a statement on Tuesday and falling to Ohio State 78-68, it might be too late for 2011-12 to be defined any other way.
After shaking off an early 21-point deficit, the Gophers clawed within single digits with 12 minutes left on the clock. But the Buckeyes were too strong to allow a last-minute comeback, and the Gophers were too desperate, forcing too many shots to try to revive a team that looked lost in the first half.
"I know we can be better than this, and that's what's disappointing," coach Tubby Smith said. "You can't get behind like that -- and the same thing against Wisconsin -- you get behind and it's an uphill battle. There's a lot more pressure on you to get it done."
Which is how this team seems comfortable -- or at least used to -- operating. The Gophers have a habit of falling into early deficits and making late-game comebacks, and have had trouble sustaining the intensity through an entire game.
The Gophers kept it close through the first six minutes of the opening half -- when Andre Hollins tied the score at 12 on a three-pointer. But then coach Tubby Smith executed one of his wholesale, five-for-five lineup swaps, and the team looked unable to get back into an offensive rhythm again.
The Buckeyes didn't skip a beat in taking advantage of the lull, charging on a 20-0 run that featured 18 points from someone not named Jared Sullinger -- who had 23 points but was topped by William Buford's stellar 24-point performance -- and made the first half ugly, quickly.
"That was disturbing," Smith said, "because they'd been playing pretty well ... I think they thought, 'We'll get back in it, coach,' and that's not the attitude you need to take. You need to play better defense, I need you to rebound and I need you to get stops. And that's what we didn't do."
This team seems to get a big performance from a different unexpected player every game, but usually in the wake of a starter's underperformance. Tuesday, it was Oto Osenieks -- who finished with 10 points and four rebounds -- who helped the Gophers make a push late in the first half, going on a 12-1 run heading into the break.
But what should have been a major momentum shift was simply a squirt of water in an otherwise empty bucket. At the half the Buckeyes were still up by 12, and with the Gophers streak chilled by the break, a re-energized Ohio State picked up right where it left off.
Modest Minnesota runs -- including a 9-2 jolt that had the team within nine midway through the second -- kept the Gophers within striking distance late, but they could never get over the hump, shooting just 65.2 percent from the free-throw line and getting bruised 20-6 in second chance shots.
"We fight back but we can't dig ourselves holes early in games, especially a 20-point hole," Rodney Williams said. "That's something we've got to work on -- coming out stronger."