Coming off consecutive, close losses to Illinois and Purdue, the Ohio State Buckeyes (10-6, 0-3) fell for the third game in a row, this time to the Minnesota Golden Gophers (15-2, 3-1) on Sunday night, 78-68. The three consecutive losses are the most since the 2015 non-conference slate, when the Bucks dropped four to Texas-Arlington, Louisiana Tech, Memphis, and Virginia. The victory was only the second for Minnesota in the series’ last 12 contests.
OSU was almost immediately behind the eight-ball, shooting just 30.3% in the first half; coming into the game, they were shooting 47.8%, 45th best in the country. Despite their poor-shooting, Ohio State made an impressive comeback in the second half to make the game competitive after a demoralizing first 20 minutes.
The game opened in particularly sloppy fashion; at the under-16 timeout, the teams had combined to shoot 4-14, as the Gophers led just 6-3, and the Buckeyes had already turned it over five times.
However, as the first half progressed, the Gophers expanded their lead as OSU’s struggles intensified. At the 12:29 mark, Minnesota’s freshman forward Eric Curry was charged with a technical foul against Tate, and senior Marc Loving split the free-throws to get the Buckeyes’ first point in 4:19. Minnesota led 16-4.
Ohio State finally cracked double-digits at 8:34 left in the first half on a Trevor Thompson put-back that brought the score to 26-10. At that point, the Buckeyes were shooting 3-16 from the field, and were 0-4 from beyond the arc. However, Tate got buckets on the next two possessions, and Minnesota coach Richard Pitino was forced to call a timeout, leading 26-14.
Despite the mini-run, the Golden Gophers opened up a 17-point lead, but as the first half wound down, the Buckeyes went on a 13-2 run to momentarily close the gap to single digits. At the the break, Minnesota led 38-27. In the first 20 minutes, the Buckeyes shot just 30.3% (10-33) from the field, including 2-8 from three, while the Gophers hit 15 of their 33 attempts (45.5%). Another point of concern for OSU was the fact that they shot just 5-9 from the free-throw line in the first half.
With Keita Bates-Diop out, and Ohio State getting out-played throughout the first half, head coach Thad Matta’s rotation looked a little different from what fans had seen in recent contests. Guard C.J. Jackson and forward Andre Wesson both saw time, however, the Buckeyes’ only two first-half bench points came from freshman center Micah Potter. Tate was the best Buckeye in the first half, leading the team with 8 points on 4-7 shooting.
Despite their disappointing shooting, the Buckeyes were hanging around by getting the ball in the lane. While Minnesota recorded 7 first-half blocks, the Buckeyes managed to collect 16 of their 27 points in the paint, while leading the rebounding battle 22-21.
A dunk by JaQuan Lyle just over six minutes into the second half got the Buckeyes within 5 points at 44-39. Thompson and Tate turned it on after intermission, as Thompson notched his fifth double-double of the year with 15 points and 15 boards; Tate finished with 20 points and 9 rebounds, after fouling out with 1:10 remaining.
Ohio State’s defensive was especially effective in shutting down Minnesota’s leading scorer, junior guard Nate Mason. Coming into the game, he was averaging 14.5 per game, but the Buckeyes held him to just 12 points on 2-12 shooting. He was staved by guards Amir Coffey and Akeem Springs who scored 19 and 18 respectively.
With five minutes left in regulation, the Buckeyes had kept the game close, trailing just 60-55. From there, OSU continued to fight to remain in the game; after Loving split a pair of free-throws, Lyle stole an in-bounds pass and gave it up to Tate for a layup to bring the score to 69-63. However, the Buckeyes were never able to claim the lead.
Lyle contributed 12 points, while Loving had 9 points on 3-11 shooting, and Kam Williams, who also fouled out, had 4 points on 1-10 from the field. After shooting 51.6% from the field in the second half, the Buckeyes ended night with a respectable 40.6%.
Ohio State next plays on Thursday, January 12th in Madison, WI. The game will tip at 7:00 p.m. EST and will air on ESPN2.
Here’s what we learned:
1) Losing KBD is going to make it tough to win. In addition to suffering a heartbreaking 76-75 loss to Purdue on Thursday, after the game it was revealed that the Buckeyes had also lost junior forward Keita Bates-Diop for the season due to a stress fracture in his leg.
While he had been limited due to injuries throughout the season, the Buckeyes needed to find a way to replace his 9.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. As Matt Brown noted following the Purdue game, Ohio State severely missed his “length, defense, and shooting ability.”
In their first game since KBD was officially ruled out for the season, we got a glimpse as to what the Buckeyes’ plan was moving forward; ride the starters as long and as hard as possible. The five starters (Tate, Loving, Lyle, Thompson, and Williams) accounted for all but 33 minutes and 8 points in the game. Matta often rides a short rotation in conference play, but this limited bench seems like it will be difficult to maintain as the Big Ten season wears on.
2) Jae’Sean Tate is Ohio State’s unquestioned leader. One of the knocks on this Buckeye team has been that there is no go-to player that they are able to count on when the going gets tough. However, on a night when the Buckeyes had their second worst shooting performance of the season, Tate was the most reliable scorer, passer, and defender.
Coming into the game, he led the team in scoring by almost 2.5 points per game (14.1), he was second in rebounding (6.5), and was second in shooting percentage (54.5%). With fellow front-count stalwart Bates-Diop officially out for the year, if the Buckeyes are going to make any noise in the Big Ten this season, it will likely be on the back of Jae’Sean Tate.
3) It’s officially time to readjust the season’s expectations. While the possibilities of an NCAA berth became even more remote following the season-ending injury to KBD, having dropped their first three Big Ten games, Ohio State is now looking at an NIT berth at best.
With losses to Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota to open their conference slate, the Buckeyes have games against Wisconsin (13-3) and Michigan State (11-6) in the next week, which could drop them to 10-8 (0-5). While a second-round loss to Florida in the NIT last year was a disappointment to a program that had made the Big Dance for seven straight years (after winning the NIT in 2008), it might be time to consider ourselves lucky if OSU even makes the NIT this year.