While the Big Ten Tournament kicked off yesterday at the United Center, Ohio State will take the floor in Chicago for the first time tonight, when they take on a Minnesota team which defeated Rutgers in their First Round qame on Wednesday night. The Buckeyes can't feel good after the way the ended the regular season in Sunday afternoon's 72-48 loss to Wisconsin.
The Buckeyes will be hoping to find a little more offense against the Golden Gophers than they had on Sunday against the Badgers. D'Angelo Russell led the way with 17 points, while Jae'Sean Tate added 13 points, and Shannon Scott was the third Buckeye to reach double figures, scoring 10 points in his final home game. Aside from that trio, no Buckeye was able to register more than four points. The biggest disappointment from Sunday's game might've been the performance of Sam Thompson, who was wasn't able to hit any of the seven shots in the game.
In the first meeting between the teams early in January, Ohio State jumped out to a 41-29 lead in the first half behind 25 points from Russell, but Minnesota was able to tighten things up with a 21-9 run in the second half to tie the game at 60 with seven minutes to play. After finding things comically easy in the first half, Russell missed all seven shots he took the rest of the game. Luckily the Buckeyes were saved in overtime by a jumper from Marc Loving with 5.6 seconds left. With that final bucket, the sophomore finished with 13 points.
This will only mark the second time in the history of the Big Ten Tournament that Minnesota and Ohio State have met, and the Golden Gophers are hoping this meeting doesn't turn out like the first one. Back in the 2010 Championship, Ohio State used nine three-pointers in the second half to break open a game that was 33-30 at halftime, winning 90-61. Evan Turner, who in the Quarterfinals hit the magical jumper to beat Michigan, dominated the title game, registering 31 points and 11 rebounds.
The Golden Gophers looked like they might make some noise this year in conference after finishing non-conference play with a 11-2 record, but it wasn't meant to be. A 6-12 record meant Minnesota had to settle for the 11th seed, and forced them to play Rutgers last night. While the Scarlet Knights were able to keep things close in the first half, Joey King was just too much for Rutgers to handle in Minnesota's 80-68 win. The junior forward hit six three-pointers on his way to 20 points, while Maurice Walker added a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
As reigning NIT Champions, Minnesota looks like they'll get a chance to defend their title this year, unless they have a magical five-day run in them in Chicago. That doesn't mean the Buckeyes can take the Golden Gophers lightly in this matchup. Not only does Minnesota have nothing to lose in this matchup, they already have a game under their belts at the United Center, which might play to their advantage against an Ohio State team that has been prone to slow starts during the season.
Numbers to know
Ohio State has found quite a bit of success in the Big Ten Tournament, posting a 24-10 record since the Big Ten starting holding the event back in 1998. The Buckeyes have lifted the trophy four times, and finished as runner-up another four times. In the last 25 games Ohio State have played at the tournament, they have won their last 20. Last year's title game marked the first time since 2008 which failed to feature Ohio State.
The first shot at become Ohio State's all-time winningest men's basketball coach didn't go so well, but Thad Matta will get another shot tonight against Minnesota. With a win, Matta will break the tie with Fred Taylor for the top spot in the Buckeye record book. History might be on Matta's side tonight, as he has accumulated a 21-6 record in the Big Ten Tournament during his time at Ohio State.
The senior class of Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, Amir Williams, and Trey McDonald have been able to rack up 107 wins during their Ohio State career. While it might pale in comparison to some of the other recent four-year classes in Columbus, with three more wins this class can tie Mark Titus and Danny Peters for fifth place on Ohio State's career wins list. Should the Buckeyes are able to do that this weekend and reach the final, the class will have a shot at their second Big Ten Championship.
Cast of characters
It was no surprise that the freshman was named not only Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but also to the First Team All-Big Ten earlier this week. Also it was announced Russell was named as one of five finalists for the Jerry West Award, which is given to the best shooting guard in the country. After games against Purdue and Penn State, where he scored 28 points, Russell was only able to post 17 points in the regular season finale against the Badgers. The Buckeyes will be hoping that Russell will be able to channel his first half earlier in the season against the Golden Gophers.
Russell wasn't the only Buckeye freshman earning accolades this week, as the Pickerington native was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. Since entering the starting lineup 12 games ago against Northwestern, Tate has averaged 12.1 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game. Since only scoring two points against Purdue last Sunday, the freshman finished his first regular season in Columbus by scoring 12 points against Penn State, followed by 13 points against Wisconsin. All of the three 20-point performances Tate has had this season have come during Big Ten play.
The senior from Canada has been doing his best to finish out his Minnesota career strong, notching double-doubles in each of his last two games for the Golden Gophers. The loss to Penn State to close out the regular season wasn't due to lack of effort from Walker, who posted a season-high 26 points, and added 11 rebounds. While Walker wasn't quite as active on the score sheet against Rutgers, scoring 10 points in the victory, he was just as active on the glass as he was against the Nittany Lions, grabbing 10 rebounds. Walker was a big reason Minnesota was able to mount a comeback against the Buckeyes in January, scoring 18 points and adding nine rebounds.
Coming into tonight's game, Minnesota's leading scorer has been in a little bit of a shooting slump, but that doesn't mean Hollins isn't capable of lighting up the scoreboard at any time. After hitting double figures in nine straight games, Hollins has failed to reach those numbers in three of the last five games. The lowlight of his recent cold spell came in last night's game, where the senior failed to record any points, missing all five of the shots he took. In the first meeting with the Buckeyes, Hollins scored 12 points, but the result could have swung a different way had he been able to hit more than three of the nine three-pointers he attempted.