The Big Ten men's basketball coaching matchup Thursday night between the Gophers' Ben Johnson and Ohio State's interim Jake Diebler was a sign of how the programs have gone in different directions since their last meeting.

In early December, the Gophers opened up Big Ten play with a 10-point road loss to the Buckeyes, who were just outside of the Top 25. Johnson's team was far from a finished product but also suffered an 18-point neutral-site loss vs. San Francisco a week earlier.

Ohio State dropped eight of nine games to eventually get coach Chris Holtmann fired. Maybe just as surprising based on being projected last in the Big Ten, the Gophers are playing themselves into a potential NCAA tournament team.

With much more program momentum on their side, the Gophers got revenge against the Buckeyes in a 88-79 victory Thursday in front of an announced 8,558 at Williams Arena.

"I just think our guys have a lot of belief right now," Johnson said. "They now have won and they understand what our winning looks like."

The Gophers (17-9, 8-7 Big Ten) looked much more balanced since the last time they played Ohio State (15-12, 5-11). They have now established one of the most formidable frontcourts in the Big Ten, but were also led Thursday by point guard Elijah Hawkins' career-high 24 points and seven assists.

"It came to a point where everyone had to step in and fulfill the role that was needed for us to win," said Hawkins, who shot 6-for-10 from the field and 4-for-5 from three-point range.

Dawson Garcia said the team was more focused on proving it could beat Ohio State than getting back at ex-teammate Jamison Battle. Garcia and Pharrel Payne combined for 37 points and 13 rebounds for the Gophers, who have won four consecutive Big Ten home games for the first time since 2020-21.

"We're a completely different team," Garcia said. "We're going to keep riding this momentum and not get close to being satisfied."

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The Barn crowd erupted early when the Gophers jumped out to a 21-9 lead after opening the game shooting 7-for-7 from the field, including 4-for-4 from three-point range.

Fans reacted with jeers whenever Battle touched the ball, but he still fed off the negative energy to score 13 of his 21 points in the first half.

In the second half, Bruce Thornton, who had 23 of his 25 points in the second half, lived in the paint off the dribble with five consecutive field goals to pull within 57-50 with 9:48 remaining. Thornton was coming off a 22-point performance in Sunday's 73-69 upset of No. 2 Purdue.

BOXSCORE: Gophers 88, Ohio State 79

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On Dec. 3 in Columbus, Garcia had a career-high 36 points. He had 22 points Thursday, with the rematch much more of an all-around effort for the Gophers.

Off the bench, Braeden Carrington and Parker Fox sparked the Gophers not only with their defense but hustle plays. Hawkins, who had 16 points in Sunday's 81-70 victory over Rutgers, became more aggressive attacking the rim to complement his deadly jumper.

"I thought he got into a rhythm and just took good shots," Johnson said of Hawkins. "He's the guy who we know can distribute the ball, but I think people forget he's a pretty good scorer."

Hawkins and Cam Christie hit back-to-back threes during a critical 8-0 run midway through the second half. Payne powered through Zed Key to throw down an emphatic dunk for a 67-51 lead with 7:44 to go. Two minutes later, Carrington converted a three-point play to make it 72-55.

The Buckeyes got within eight points down the stretch. But Hawkins was a one-man press breaker. He sealed the game going 8-for-8 at the foul line in the last 96 seconds.

This was clearly a different Minnesota team that is now playing for something much more than Ohio State with March approaching.