Minneapolis, MN (SportsNetwork.com) - The suddenly mortal Ohio State Buckeyes will try to put the brakes on a two-game slide when they challenge the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Big Ten Conference action at Williams Arena on Thursday night.
Ohio State had been ranked as high as No. 3 in the country as the team sprinted out to a 15-0 start. That highly-successful run included wins in each of their first two Big Ten bouts, but the Buckeyes, now No. 11 in the country, have suffered defeats in their last two games -- 72-68 on overtime at Michigan State on Jan. 7, and 84-74 to visiting Iowa on Jan. 12.
Minnesota has enjoyed a solid start under first-year head coach Richard Pitino, going 13-4 overall and 2-2 in conference. The Golden Gophers are coming off a loss of their own, as they dropped an 87-75 overtime decision at Michigan State last Saturday. UM is hoping for a return to the win column, where its put a tally in 10 of its 11 home games this season.
Ohio State owns an 82-49 lead in the all-time series with Minnesota, which includes victories in each of the last six meetings.
Lackluster shooting and a lax approach to ball control plagued the Buckeyes for the second straight game, and as a result they lost again. Ohio State shot 44.6 percent from the field against Iowa, which included a 7-of-21 showing from 3-point range, and the team was guilty of 17 turnovers. The Buckeyes had 18 miscues in their loss to Michigan State. LaQuinton Ross tallied 22 points and seven rebounds to pace OSU in both categories against the Hawkeyes, while Amir Williams tacked on 11 points and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. finished with 10. The Buckeyes lost the rebounding battle (40-31), and were outscored at the foul line (21-17).
Despite the recent setbacks, Ohio State still has the stats of a team that could very well challenge for the national title. The Buckeyes are averaging 75.1 ppg while permitting a minuscule 57.6 ppg, and their foes are shooting just 38.1 percent from the floor, which includes a 26.9 percent effort from 3- point range. Turnovers have also played an integral role in the team's overall success, as it goads the opposition into nearly 15 miscues per outing. OSO boasts only two double-digit scorers in Ross (13.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Smith, Jr. (12.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg), but five others average between 7.0 and 9.6 ppg in what has truly been a balanced attack this season.
Minnesota has been impressive in just about every phase of the game to this point, scoring an average of 75.9 ppg while yielding 67.1 ppg. The team features four double-digit scorers in Andre Hollins (16.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.1 apg), Austin Hollins (12.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.5 apg), DeAndre Mathieu (11.4 ppg, 4.4 apg) and Malik Smith (10.1 ppg). Elliott Eliason may only be netting 6.5 ppg, but he makes an impact in other areas as he has blocked 46 shots while pulling down a team-high 8.6 rpg.
Despite holding a five-point lead at halftime of their recent clash with Michigan State, the Golden Gophers fell by 12 points in overtime to the nationally-ranked Spartans. Andre Hollins paced Minnesota with 24 points, while Smith came off the bench to add 17. As a team, the Gophers hit just 40.4 percent of their field goal attempts, including a paltry 1-of-9 effort in the extra session, but drained 10 treys in the game while going 19-of-24 at the free-throw line. In contrast, MSU converted 32-of-40 foul shots, 12 of which came in the overtime period to propel it to victory.