COLUMBUS, Ohio – Dawson Garcia and his Gophers basketball teammates walked off the Ohio State court Sunday night on the opposite side of the emotion spectrum as last season's meeting.
In a very similar fashion, Garcia had a career night, but this time the Gophers failed to play sound basketball for most of the game, resulting in a 84-74 loss against the Buckeyes at Value City Arena.
No men's player in the Big Ten had scored more than Garcia's 36 points, to go with 11 rebounds Sunday. It was also the third best scoring game on the road in the Big Ten for a Gophers player since 1962.
A 22-point deficit was too steep to overcome for the second straight upset over the Buckeyes. It gave Garcia a bittersweet feeling after his monumental effort in the Big Ten opener for the Gophers (5-3), who host Nebraska on Wednesday.
"We showed fight, but we know we can't come out and give teams confidence early like that," Garcia told the Star Tribune. "We don't have to be a team that puts ourselves in a hole and has to climb back."
Here are four things learned following the Gophers' loss at Ohio State:
Garcia the Great
Garcia gained a ton of respect for the way he carved up Ohio State's defense in the second half Sunday to the tune of 28 points. He had only two field goals in the first half, including one on a goaltending call.
"He's as good a player on the frontline in terms of his versatility as there is in the league," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said.
Garcia's performance in the final 20 minutes alone matched his previous career-high of 28 points in a 70-67 win against the Buckeyes last season. So, what changed for the 6-11 junior in the second half Sunday?
"The biggest thing within our sets and the offense we run is he's got to touch it," Johnson said. "We work all the time with our bigs on being a team that can play inside and out. So, I think that just showed up."
So, basically the Gophers' offense was give it to Garcia and get out of the way. And it worked to cut the lead to six points with under five minutes in the second half. At one point, Garcia had 16 points during a 24-12 run. He shot 10-for-17 from the field and 8-for-10 from the foul line in the second half.
The Gophers weren't able to have success with their primary post option with Pharrel Payne being limited to six points in 30 minutes. Ohio State's Felix Okpara had five blocks in the game, but Garcia was too quick off the dribble for a traditional center. And he was too big for forwards to handle at the rim.
The last Gophers player to have at least 35 points and 10 rebounds in a game for the Gophers was Jordan Murphy against South Carolina Upstate in 2017.
Jamison Battle dismissed the idea that the Big Ten opener against his former Gophers team meant more to him than just another game Sunday night, but he wasn't fooling anyone.
The former Gophers standout scored eight of Ohio State's first 11 points, including the first two three-pointers in Big Ten play with his new squad.
Battle had the same number of field goals in about 90 seconds than Garcia had in the entire first half. But the clash between the two Minnesota natives and friends became the biggest storyline the rest of the night. The former DeLaSalle star had his best game with the Buckeyes with 25 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including 4-for-6 from three-point range.
"You see how much he competes," Battle said about Garcia. "Being my roommate last year, I see how much time he puts in and see what he does. He brings the best out of guys with how hard he works and how hard he goes. He's the leader of that team. He's going to help them go a long way."
If Battle was on their side in Sunday's rematch with Ohio State maybe the result would've been different. But Battle said he didn't talk to his former Gophers teammates for 24 hours before the game. He did see Parker Fox at midcourt for the captain's meeting with officials during warmups.
"I'm so competitive," Battle said. "But after the game I gave love to those guys, and they gave love to me. It's a special group. I know they're going to work hard and being the right position in the end."
For the fourth straight game, the Gophers got off to a slow start with a starting lineup that just lacks much scoring punch.
Ohio State opened the game up 14-2 in the first 14 ½ minutes. It was reminiscent of the 18-point loss at San Francisco when the Gophers trailed 10-1 from the jump.
After leading by 22 points in the first half, the Buckeyes saw their advantage cut in half after Minnesota's 10-0 run, including eight straight points to end the first half.
Payne's dunk to beat the buzzer made it a 42-28 Gopher deficit at halftime. Garcia, who had eight points on 2-for-8 shooting in the first half, eventually the team on his back to make the second half competitive. But a better start might have resulted in a similar upset to last season.
In the first half, the Gophers starters combined for just 18 points on 6-for-17 shooting. Starters Braeden Carrington and Isaiah Ihnen were scoreless overall for the second time in three games. Could there finally be starting lineup changes as Johnson hinted to last week?
Grading the guards
The Gophers were outplayed a few times so far this season in the backcourt, but the difference wasn't as glaring as Sunday. Ohio State's Bruce Thornton and Roddy Gayle Jr. alone outscored Elijah Hawkins, Mike Mitchell Jr., Cam Christie and Carrington 42-25.
Thornton, who averaged 18 points entering the game, had 26 points, including 14 points in the second half. He drew nine fouls on the Gophers, who struggled keeping the talented sophomore from doing damage driving downhill all night.
Ohio State freshman Scotty Middleton also hit some big shots with eight points, including two three-pointers off the bench. Maybe the biggest positive from the Gophers' backcourt Sunday was Christie with nine of his 11 points in the second half in his first Big Ten game.
"It gives me a good amount of confidence," Christie said. "But I always say you have to stay even keeled and never get too high or too low. I have confidence in myself. It's nice to know I can play at this level, but always knew it."