COLUMBUS, OHIO - When it comes to teams vying for the NCAA basketball tournament, there are some things that separate the pretenders from the contenders.
Road wins usually are at the top of the list.
Entering Thursday at Ohio State, the Gophers men’s basketball team had a goose egg in the column on its résumé under true road wins, but Marcus Carr’s three-pointer with 3.3 seconds left gave his team its first road victory this season in a 62-59 win in front of a stunned announced crowd of 13,234 at Value City Arena.
Carr, who finished with 21 points and seven rebounds, led the Gophers to their first victory in Columbus since the 2004-05 season. That was also the last time the Gophers swept the Buckeyes.
“It felt good to finally put it all together,” said Carr, who scored a career-best 35 points in the 84-71 victory Dec. 15 against Ohio State at Williams Arena. “We’ve been tested on the road a lot. We just hadn’t been able to finish it down the stretch. We got a chance to do that [Thursday].”
The 6-2 sophomore guard from Toronto crossed over one defender and nailed the biggest shot of his career over C.J. Walker for the lead. The Buckeyes, who have lost six of their past seven, were in disarray on the ensuing inbounds pass that sailed out of bounds.
Once the final buzzer sounded, the Gophers (11-8, 5-4 Big Ten) celebrated at midcourt. They had their first true road win after starting 0-6, including last weekend’s 64-56 loss at Rutgers.
“They were pretty excited,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “We’re right there with an opportunity to go back to the NCAA tournament three out of four years, which is great. Still a long season to go, but we knew we had to break through on the road.”
Playing on the road has been brutal for almost every team in the Big Ten, but it was going to be really tough for the Gophers to get the job done with star sophomore center Daniel Oturu having an off night.
Oturu, who was averaging nearly 22 points and 12 rebounds in conference play, was held scoreless in the first half. But he worked as hard as ever to score 11 second-half points, while also holding Kaleb Wesson to two points on 1-for-10 shooting.
“It’s special to come into a place like this and to get a win,” Oturu said. “We fought the whole game.”
After trailing 37-28 at halftime, the Gophers saw their deficit grow to 11 points before they gave themselves a chance by turning up the defensive pressure. The Buckeyes (12-7, 2-6) opened the second half shooting 1-for-9 from the field, and would go on to score only 22 points in the second half on 37% shooting.
The lead bounced back and forth in the game’s waning minutes, with Kyle Young scoring six consecutive points to give the Buckeyes a 59-57 lead with 1:11 left. Carr did the answering for the Gophers from there, tying the score with a layup with 46 seconds remaining before his final three capped a 5-0 in the final 69 seconds to seal a road win that could give them momentum going forward.
Pitino seemed to be holding his breath on the sideline for the final shot, choosing not to take a timeout and calling the same isolation play for Carr that he did in the 83-78 double-overtime loss Jan. 2 at Purdue. Carr missed a potential game-winning jumper in that first overtime — and it stuck with him. With a similar chance in a similar situation, he buried it.
“I’m not going to lie; in the back of my mind, I was like, ‘I’ve got to make up for Purdue,’ ” Carr said. “Coach already trust me with that once. I take pride being a clutch player.”