Today’s talented team
COLUMBUS — Soon after the school honored its 1960 national championship team, the 20th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes showed they could play a little, too.
William Buford scored a career-high 26 points and Evan Turner and Jon Diebler each had 19 to lead the Buckeyes past Minnesota 85-63 Sunday for their fifth win in six games.
“We weren’t blind. I’m sure everyone could feel the presence of them,” Turner said of the 50th-anniversary team, which was watching from a suite. “It was a big day. It was huge.”
The Buckeyes (16-6, 6-3 Big Ten) shot 63 percent against Minnesota (13-8, 4-5), which came in leading the conference by limiting opponents to just 38.6 percent from the field.
The 1960 squad was led by Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek. That team shot 84 percent from the field in the first half of the final against California to build a big lead, then eased to a 75-55 win for the school’s only national title in basketball.
Against Minnesota, this year’s Buckeyes shot 73 percent from the field in the opening half to mount a 49-35 lead and never looked back.
The current Buckeyes met members of the 1960 team at practice on Saturday, then at a reception held at nearby St. John Arena, where Ohio State used to play its home games.
“Those are legends right there,” Diebler said. “Just having them talk to us after practice and then being at the reception last night, it kind of gave you goosebumps just being around all those guys. You’re talking about some of the greats to ever play.”
Even current Ohio State coach Thad Matta felt the pressure with the presence of Bob Knight, a sub on the 1960 team who won 902 games at Army, Indiana and Texas Tech.
“When you’ve got the all-time winningest coach watching your practice, I’m like, ’Hey, fellas. You can’t screw this up now,”’ Matta said with a laugh.
There was no clear, lopsided run that powered the Buckeyes to a big lead. They just slowly pulled away, playing patiently on offense and getting points off their trapping defense.
With Ohio State ahead 32-24 late in the half, Buford, the freshman of the year in the Big Ten last season, hit a runner in the lane, David Lighty hit a spectacular driving layup while falling and Buford added two foul shots to push the lead to 38-24.
The Golden Gophers, just 1-5 on the road, never got closer than 12 points again. The Buckeyes led by 28 in the second half and coasted to the finish.
Rodney Williams had 13 points, Ralph Sampson III had 11 and Damian Johnson and Blake Hoffarber each had 10 to lead the Golden Gophers, who have lost four of five.
“That’s a game we just didn’t give ourselves much of a chance to win,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. “You’ve got to play a lot harder and a lot smarter. It’s disappointing. Again, a lot of it has to do with Ohio State; it’s a very talented team. They’re playing well right now and we’re not.”
Lighty tossed in 11 points and had six assists, while Turner added eight assists and three rebounds. He drew defenders as he slashed to the basket, then kicked out passes that led to easy baskets.
“Who wouldn’t pay attention to him?” Diebler said. “He’s one of the best players in the country.”
Minnesota, which had won the earlier meeting 73-62 on Jan. 9, had 17 turnovers that helped fuel the Buckeyes’ transition game, leading to 24 points.
Smith was asked how the loss might damage his team’s NCAA tournament resume.
“I really don’t think about the NCAA tournament,” he said. “After today, we’d better figure out how we can win another game.”
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