MINNEAPOLIS — New coach Richard Pitino has brought a fast-paced, perimeter-based style to Minnesota.
The Golden Gophers haven’t ignored their inside game, though. Ohio State got quite the glimpse.
Elliott Eliason had 12 points and 13 rebounds to help Minnesota muscle up and beat the 11th-ranked Buckeyes 63-53 Thursday night, a rare third loss in a row for Ohio State.
“I never get bored of double-doubles,” Eliason said.
DeAndre Mathieu had 13 points, five assists and three steals for the Gophers (14-4, 3-2 Big Ten), who gave Pitino his first signature win at Minnesota. 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.
That started with Eliason.
“Whenever we needed a bucket, he came through clutch with some big finishes, big rebounds,” Mathieu said. “He’s turned into a monster. He’s really good. I think he’s the best big in the Big Ten.”
LaQuinton Ross scored 22 points for the Buckeyes (15-3, 2-3), on a three-game losing streak for the first time in almost five 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 at home in 2010.
“They were the tougher team, and that’s how you win in the Big Ten,” Buckeyes senior point guard Aaron Craft said.
The Buckeyes lost last week at Michigan State and then at home to Iowa, hardly blemishes on their resume, 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.
Eliason, the 6-foot-11 junior whose post game has begun to emerge as a valuable complement to his shot-blocking and rebounding ability, was recently named a captain.
“I’ve liked him since the day he got here,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “The 17-foot jump shot surprised me a little bit, but that’s kind of how the night went.”
Pitino was proud.
“He’s playing with great confidence. Confidence is so big in this game,” the coach said.
Then the Gophers went to their guards to break open the game down the stretch.
Andre Hollins swished a corner 3-pointer inside the three-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, on Wednesday.
Ohio State’s man-to-man defense, which allowed a Big Ten-best 57.6 points per game entering the night, made open jump shots and driving lanes nearly nonexistent for Minnesota in the first half. The Gophers had eight turnovers in the first eight minutes, but they came up with enough steals, screens and back-door cuts to produce some offense.
Eliason 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.
“Just silly mistakes, man. They got a rebound off a free throw. A rebound off a free throw where they had nobody on the line,” Ross said. “So stuff like that just can’t happen, man. That was a big play in the game.”
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 two seconds remaining to forge the tie. Then, early in the second half, the lanky 6-8 junior swished consecutive 3-pointers for the Buckeyes to give them the lead again at 38-36.