After having over a week in between games, Ohio State gets back on the court tonight, hitting the road for the first time in conference play to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. The Buckeyes will be looking to make it four wins in a row over the Golden Gophers.
The last time we saw Ohio State, the Buckeyes scored 60 points in the second half to defeat Penn State 106-74. The Buckeyes hit 31 field goals, 30 free throws, and 14 three-pointers against the Nittany Lions, marking the first time since at least 1996 Ohio State hit those numbers in a game. The 106 points the Buckeyes scored was the first time Ohio State scored at least 100 points in a conference game since 2006, when they eclipsed the 100-point mark against Penn State. The Buckeyes are now 76-1 when scoring at least 100 points in a game.
Ohio State was led against Penn State by Kaleb Wesson, who registered his third double-double of the season, and ninth of career, scoring 28 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. The junior was feeling it from behind the arc, hitting a career-high four three-pointers against the Nittany Lions. With his effort against Penn State, Wesson raised his team-high scoring average to 14.1 points per game this year.
About the only area where Penn State was able to top Ohio State last Saturday was with scoring from their bench. In the eight previous games the Ohio State bench was able to score more points than their opponent’s bench, but the bench of the Nittany Lions outscored the bench of the Buckeyes 41-32. Andre Wesson had nearly half of the points off the bench for Ohio State, scoring 15 points. The performance was Wesson’s second-highest total of the season, as he was coming off a 19-point performance a couple weeks ago against Morgan State.
After scoring just two points in nine minutes against North Carolina, Luther Muhammad rebounded with a season-high 14 points in the win over Penn State. Duane Washington Jr. also scored 14 points against the Nittany Lions, marking the third time in the last four games that the sophomore has scored at least 14 points. C.J. Walker dished out seven assists against Penn State, which tied his career-high.
The Buckeyes have put the clamps down on the best players their opponents have thrown at them so far this year. After holding North Carolina’s Cole Anthony five points under his scoring average last week, Ohio State allowed Lamar Stevens just 11 points in 18 minutes before Stevens fouled out. The leader scorer of Ohio State’s opponents enter their matchup with the Buckeyes averaging 15.6 points per game, but Ohio State is holding those players to just 10.7 points per game so far this season.
Ohio State will close out their early season dip into Big Ten play by facing Minnesota. The Buckeyes are 87-57 all-time against the Golden Gophers, with Ohio State winning the last three meetings with Minnesota. The last time the Buckeyes lost to Minnesota came on their last trip to Minneapolis in 2017. The Golden Gophers defeated the Buckeyes 78-68 before Ohio State avenged that loss in Columbus a few weeks later. Last year these two teams met once, with Ohio State winning 79-59 in Columbus.
Minnesota enters tonight’s game with a 4-5 record, but some of the struggles can be attributed to the competition the Golden Gophers have played. Minnesota has played the 17th toughest schedule in the country so far this season, with their opponents averaging a 72.6% winning percentage. Their five losses this year have come to Oklahoma, Butler, Utah, DePaul, and Iowa, all of whom could be playing in the NCAA Tournament in March.
In Minnesota’s Big Ten opener on Monday night, the Golden Gophers fell to Iowa 72-52 in Iowa City. Daniel Oturu was the lone bright spot for Minnesota, scoring 22 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, and blocking five shots. Alihan Demir was the only other Golden Gopher to reach double-figures on the night, scoring 13 points. Gabe Kalscheur couldn’t buy a bucket against the Hawkeyes, missing all 10 shots he attempted.
The start to Richard Pitino’s seventh season in charge hasn’t gone exactly as planned after the Golden Gophers made the NCAA Tournament last season. Minnesota was able to earn the first NCAA Tournament win under Pitino, beating Louisville in the first round before falling to Michigan State in the round of 32. Pitino has amassed a 116-97 record during his time in Minneapolis.
Even though Minnesota has struggled at times this year, the Golden Gophers can be dangerous if the are able to get their shots falling from behind the arc. Minnesota has already hit at least 12 three-pointers in three games this year after hitting more than 10 three-pointers in just four games last season. Minnesota’s season-high from distance came in the season opener against Cleveland State when they hit 14 three-pointers against the Vikings.
There is no question who the standout on the Minnesota roster is. After averaging 10.8 points per game and 7.0 rebounds per game last year, Daniel Oturu has taken a big leap in his sophomore season. Oturu is averaging 18.0 points per game, 11.0 rebounds per game, and 3.6 blocks per game. Expect Oturu to be very active on the glass, as he already has two games this season where he has pulled down 18 rebounds. Oturu already has five double-doubles this season, and was just a point and a rebound shy of adding a couple more double-doubles to that total this year.
Ohio State won’t be able to focus all their attention on Oturu, as Minnesota has a trio of talented guards who see significant minutes. Marcus Carr transferred to Minnesota from Pitt and is averaging 13.0 points per game, 6.7 assists per game, and 5.7 rebounds per game after sitting out last season. Carr’s best performance of the year came in the win over Clemson in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge when he scored 24 points and dished out nine assists.
Another transfer who has made an impact for Minnesota this season is Payton Willis, who started his career at Vanderbilt. Willis started off the season scoring at least 13 points in five of Minnesota’s first seven games, but has cooled off a little bit recently. The Buckeyes can’t overlook Willis, as he has hit at least four three-pointers in four games this year.
The third guard Ohio State will have to keep tabs on is Gabe Kalscheur, who will be hungry to get back in the scoring column after being shutout against the Hawkeyes on Monday. Kalscheur came into the game against Iowa having reached double figures in scoring in each of the last five games, but he couldn’t get anything to fall at Iowa. For the season, Kalscheur is averaging 10.8 points per game, and had hit at least two three-pointers in every game leading up to Monday night’s contest in Iowa City.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 67.9%
Winning on the road in the Big Ten is never easy, no matter the venue. Williams Arena opened in 1928 and is one of the most unique venues in college basketball because of the raised floor. Ohio State has had their troubles in Minneapolis over the years, losing seven games at Williams Arena since 2002. Minnesota holds a 39-31 edge over the Buckeyes in Minneapolis.
While Ohio State has had past struggles on the road against the Golden Gophers, there’s no question this Buckeye team is a lot different than some of those teams who suffered losses recently at Williams Arena. The calling card of Ohio State is their defense, which hadn’t allowed an opponent to score more than 60 points this year prior to the Penn State game. Even though the Nittany Lions were able to score 74 points on Ohio State, the Buckeyes weren’t really in danger because of the outstanding shooting display they put on in the second half.
A big reason why it’s likely Ohio State will be able to leave Minneapolis with a win is because of the difference in depth between the two teams. The Golden Gophers have just five players averaging over 15 minutes per game, while Ohio State have eight players averaging at least 15 minutes per game. Minnesota doesn’t get much production out of their bench, as after their five starters, the next highest scorer for the Golden Gophers is Jarvis Omersa, who is averaging just 3.2 points per game.
As long as Ohio State is able to keep Minnesota’s guards from finding their shooting touch from outside, the Buckeyes should be in good shape. While Daniel Oturu does present some problems in the paint for the Buckeyes, Kaleb Wesson should be able to keep pace with Oturu after the work Wesson put in during the offseason. The Golden Gophers could hang around a little in the beginning of the game, but expect the Buckeyes to eventually pull away from Minnesota.