Familiar tale for Gophers in loss

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 15, 2012 - 9:34 AM

It was the same old story for the Gophers, who showed flashes against No. 6 Ohio State but again came up short.

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."

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