Minnesota was looking to prove its undefeated non-conference record was a sign its program was headed in the right direction, but its first Big Ten game gave the team a wakeup call.
After suffering their first loss of the season, the No. 21 Golden Gophers hope for a better effort against their second consecutive ranked opponent Saturday when they host No. 24 Ohio State.
Minnesota (12-1, 0-1 Big Ten) won 20 games in 2007-08 in Tubby Smith’s first season as coach following a nine-win campaign in 2006-07, and finished non-conference play this season with an unblemished record.
That left the Gophers with big expectations for the Big Ten season despite not having finished with a winning conference record since 2004-05. They got off to a rough start, however, losing 70-58 to No. 10 Michigan State on Wednesday.
Minnesota entered the game ranked second in the Big Ten in scoring with 74.8 points per game and third in field-goal shooting at 48.1 percent, but set season lows in both categories—it shot 39.6 percent.
“It just brings us back down to reality,” said Al Nolen, who had a team-high 14 points. “It lets you know you’re not as good as you think you are, you’re not as bad as you think you are. We really just got to regroup and put this game in the past.”
Although last season they recorded their most wins since 2004-05, the Gophers only were 8-10 in Big Ten games.
They are trying to avoid another offensive letdown in conference play. Minnesota averaged 76.9 points in non-conference regular season play in 2007-08, but just 65.9 points against Big Ten opponents.
“We know that it’s important for us to be able to move on from this game,” Nolen said. “We know that (the Buckeyes) are one of the better teams in the country. We’re really going to have to go out there and play them better than we played today.”
Ohio State (10-1, 1-0) rebounded from a 76-48 loss to West Virginia last Saturday with a 68-65 win over Iowa on Wednesday in its Big Ten opener.
Jon Diebler scored a career-high 27 points to help the Buckeyes stave off a late charge by the Hawkeyes. He was 7-of-10 from 3-point range.
“It’s hard to score 27 points,” coach Thad Matta said. “What Jon did today, especially in the second half, he was a tremendous boost for us.”
Diebler, second on the team with 11.5 points per game, had scored a combined eight points on 3-of-15 shooting in his previous two games.
The Buckeyes especially needed the big effort from Diebler on Wednesday as leading scorer Evan Turner struggled again, finishing with 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting. Turner scored only 10 in the loss to West Virginia after averaging 16.9 points on 55.4 percent shooting in the first nine games of the season.
Ohio State plays four of its next five Big Ten games on the road, where it was 3-6 against conference opponents last season. The Buckeyes have knocked off two ranked opponents away from home this season, including then-No. 7 Notre Dame at a neutral site.
Ohio State and Minnesota split their two meetings last season, which each team winning at home. This is the first time these programs have met while both were ranked since 1972.