His eyes glistening, CJ Walker could only state the obvious.
On Thursday night, Walker and his Ohio State teammates played a Minnesota team that was winless on the road. No Golden Gophers team had won at Value City Arena in 15 years, including 10 straight losses. Having lost five of their past six games, the Buckeyes had a chance to turn around their midseason slide and, with a minute to play, led by two points.
It wasn’t enough. Minnesota guard Marcus Carr tied the score with 43 seconds remaining and made the winning three-pointer with 3.3 seconds left to hand Ohio State a 62-59 loss in front of 13,234 fans.
In contrast to previous outings, most recently at Penn State on Saturday, the effort wasn’t the problem. This time, Minnesota (11-8, 5-4 Big Ten) made the plays down the stretch to steal one from Ohio State (12-7, 2-6), leaving Walker to try to put the loss into context.
“It hurts a lot,” the junior said, “especially when you’re in a game like that. We made the right plays the whole game, and then that happens.
“It just hurts.”
After their toughness was challenged by coach Chris Holtmann following Saturday’s 14-point loss to the Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes responded and built a nine-point halftime lead that climbed to 11 on their first offensive possession of the second half when Kaleb Wesson collected his own blocked shot and dunked it to make it 39-28.
It was only Ohio State’s second double-digit lead in its past eight games, and it wouldn’t last. Minnesota responded with an 11-1 run, reclaimed a one-point lead with 7:52 to play and set up a dramatic finish that nearly belonged to Kyle Young.
With Ohio State trailing 56-53 with three minutes to play, the junior forward scored six straight points in the lane to put the Buckeyes ahead 59-57 with 1:09 to play before Carr’s theatrics.
“I was just getting lost in the game,” Young said. “My motor definitely felt a little bit better.”
Once Carr tied the score with 43 seconds left on a drive in the lane, Ohio State called a timeout with 38.1 seconds to play and 25 left on the shot clock. The plan was to try to get sophomore guard Duane Washington Jr. the ball on a back-door cut, but the Gophers snuffed it out, and the Buckeyes had to adapt.
They got an open three-pointer from Wesson, who entered the game shooting 43.3% from long range, that didn’t fall.
“In some ways, you wish we would’ve (gone inside), but I’m at peace with where we were at with that possession,” Holtmann said.
Carr grabbed the rebound, pushed it up the floor and made the winning three-pointer with 3.3 seconds to play. Washington got a final look from near midcourt that was just off line, setting off a celebration for the Golden Gophers.
“It was a guard-to-guard switch,” Walker said of the winning play. “I contested and he made the shot.”
Minnesota’s win is only the 10th Big Ten road win this season and the second at Value City Arena.