For the first time this season, the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball (10-5, 2-2) team finds itself on a losing streak, having fallen in two-straight conference matchups in the last week. Having returned to Columbus to lick their wounds, the Buckeyes need a chance to bounce back. Fortunately, they’ll have their shot against the last-place team in the Big Ten, the Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-8, 0-4).
Ohio State dropped to 10-5 on the year and an even 2-2 in conference play following their 80-73 road loss to the Maryland Terrapins Sunday afternoon.
It was a brutal game between two teams looking to right the ship after losses — though, in Maryland’s case, it was coming off a streak while Ohio State was trying to come back from a last-second loss to the No. 1 team in the country at the time, Purdue.
The Buckeyes led 39-34 at the half, but sloppy play to open the second half (when Maryland went on a 14-0 run) meant Maryland could take a lead just two minutes into the second half — a lead the Terps would not relinquish. While Ohio State pulled within three late in the game, it was not enough to overcome a hungry team on the road.
As has become custom, freshman forward Brice Sensabaugh led the Buckeyes in scoring with 22 points on the day. It was the sixth-straight game Sensabaugh led his team in scoring. The freshman had 20+ points in four of those six games. Sensabaugh also had a team-high seven rebounds versus the Terps. Senior forward Justice Sueing was not far behind with 21 points against Maryland. The downside is that the pair accounted for 59% of Ohio State’s offense on their own as Sensabaugh and Sueing were the only two players in double-figures on the day.
It certainly didn’t help that the Buckeyes remained without junior forward Zed Key, who left the game against Purdue with a shoulder sprain just four minutes into the game.
The Buckeyes shot 44% from the field and 47% from three-point range, with three players hitting multiple threes on the day. Unfortunately, Ohio State struggled on the boards, pulling down just 26 rebounds to Maryland’s 40. The Buckeyes had struggled to rebound against Purdue by a similar margin.
Ohio State and Maryland each had an even dozen turnovers, but crucially, four of those Ohio State turnovers came in the critical opening minutes of the second half when Maryland mounted its comeback and took the lead for good.
The Buckeyes had entered their home game against Purdue as a team on the rise (even as the No. 2 team in offensive efficiency according to Kenpom), but now it looks like Ohio State needs a regroup.
Fortunately, they’ll have their shot against what’s currently the worst team in the Big Ten tonight against Minnesota.
Perhaps the most interesting piece of series history when it comes to Ohio State vs. Minnesota basketball is that time Minnesota chose violence in 1972 when a brawl broke out during the Gophers’ matchup against the Buckeyes. With Ohio State leading in the closing seconds, a scuffle ensued after a flagrant Gopher foul. The fight even involved the Goldy Gopher mascot punching Ohio State forward Mark Wagner. Three Ohio State players ended up in the hospital by the end of the melee.
Why all this history? Because there’s not so much to talk about with this year’s Minnesota team.
But most importantly, the Gophers are at the bottom of the Big Ten in their overall record. At 6-8 overall and 0-4 in conference play, Minnesota is the only Big Ten team with a losing record on the season.
Minnesota is bottom of the Big Ten in scoring offense (64.3 points per game) and 11th in scoring defense (67.5 points per game). They’re also the only Big Ten team with a negative scoring margin.
Most recently, Minnesota fell 81-79 in a heartbreaking overtime loss in the battle for the worst record in the conference against Nebraska. It was also the battle of the two teams that finished worst in the Big Ten in the 2021-22 season.
Junior forward Jamison Battle led the Gophers in scoring with 20 points on the day. Sophomore forward Dawson Garcia added 19. Freshman forward Joshua Ola-Joseph and junior guard Ta’Lon Cooper each had a dozen. While the offense was impressive, Minnesota had just eight bench points on the day. The Gophers shot 49% from the field (while giving up 50% shooting to the Huskers) and shot 37% from three-point range.
While Minnesota had just seven turnovers on the afternoon, like Ohio State, one area they got beat Sunday proved to be on rebounds: Nebraska had 38 rebounds to Minnesota’s 28.
Leading Minnesota from the bench is Ben Johnson. A Minnesota alum, Johnson is in his second season coaching his alma mater. He’s amassed an overall 19-25 record, including 4-20 in conference play.
The Buckeyes find themselves on their heels as they return to Columbus after an unsuccessful road venture. Fortunately, home has been a refuge for Ohio State this season, with the Buckeyes holding a 7-2 advantage at the Schottenstein Center. It should be a good opportunity to get things back together and avoid a spiral early on in a tough Big Ten season.
Then again, Minnesota has had a long time off to think about this matchup (their game against Nebraska was last Saturday).
Key to the matchup is, well, Key, who is day-to-day this week. But in a heavily favored matchup, Chris Holtmann might opt to give him a little more rest before the Buckeyes have to head back on the road for a sneaky away game against Rutgers. Still, it would help the Buckeyes to get their third-leading scorer back in the lineup since things were clearly vibing when he was in the picture. While he has not been ruled out of this game, it sounds rather unlikely we’ll see Zed Thursday evening.
Ohio State should have an advantage from distance, though. The Gophers are the worst in the conference in three-point defense, while the Buckeyes are the best in the Big Ten offensively from range.
The Buckeyes own the all-time series against Minnesota 77-46. Last season, Ohio State won both its matchups against the Gophers last season by a total margin of 145-109. Battle led the Gophers with 15 points in the Buckeyes’ road matchup in Minneapolis.
Minnesota is coming in at No. 192 in Kenpom rankings, while Ohio State is holding steady at No. 12 despite two recent losses. Still, while it’s easy to write off the Gophers, we can’t ignore that Minnesota’s two recent losses came by a total of five points.
Ohio State has an opportunity to right the ship tonight against a team that hasn’t shown a lot of spark this season. But, like the Buckeyes’ last opponent, Minnesota is thirsting for that first conference win of the season, and might just be a little desperate after an overtime loss. We can’t count them out just yet.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 96.9%
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET