Minnesota used a win over Ohio State last month to bounce back from a humbling loss, but doing it Saturday may be a lot tougher.
Coming off an embarrassing defeat, the No. 19 Golden Gophers will try to snap out of their two-week slump when they visit the hot-shooting Buckeyes.
Minnesota (18-4, 6-4) has lost three of its last five games after one of the best starts in school history. A loss Saturday would drop the Gophers into sixth place in the Big Ten, though they enter two games behind conference-leading Michigan State and in a four-way tie for third place that includes Ohio State (16-5, 6-4).
The Gophers’ schedule to gain ground isn’t favorable with four of the next six games on the road, where they’re 2-2 in Big Ten play and the wins were by four points against two of the league’s worst teams—Wisconsin and Indiana.
Their only game this week came on the road and it was humiliating, losing 76-47 to No. 13 Michigan State on Wednesday. Minnesota shot 28.8 percent, was outrebounded 42-26 and had only one player finish with more than seven points— Devoe Joseph with 11. Leading scorer Lawrence Westbrook, who came in averaging 13.9 points, was held to six on 2-of-7 shooting.
“When you have the type of shooting we had, it makes for a long, long night,” coach Tubby Smith said. “They just outworked us and got every rebound and every loose ball.”
The loss was Minnesota’s second this season to the Spartans, who handed the Gophers their first loss following a 12-0 start by winning 70-58 in Minneapolis on Dec. 31. Minnesota responded with a 68-59 win over Ohio State three days later.
Though that game came when the Buckeyes were ranked 24th and they are not currently in the AP poll, it also was in Minneapolis whereas this one is in Columbus and Ohio State has been red-hot on offense.
The Buckeyes have shot a combined 60.1 percent from the field during a three-game winning streak, including 60.4 percent in an 80-72 overtime win over No. 12 Purdue on Tuesday.
While Ohio State is making a case to return to the Top 25, coach Thad Matta tried to downplay the importance of the win.
“Like I told (the players), every time this team feels good it comes back and bites us in the ass,” he said. “We don’t get too high; we don’t get too low; we just want to get better.”
Evan Turner had 26 points - six in overtime - and grabbed 12 rebounds for Ohio State, which outrebounded the Boilermakers 36-19. Freshman William Buford added 22 points, three days after scoring a career-high 24 in a win at Indiana.
“William Buford was amazing. That kid is good,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said.
While Buford is 18-of-26 from the field in the last two games, Turner has been outstanding during the three-game win streak as he’s averaged 26.3 points on 63.8 percent shooting (25-of-38).
Turner scored 21 points in last month’s matchup with Minnesota, but Buford and fellow starting guard Jeremie Simmons were held to a combined nine points on 2-of-14 shooting and the Buckeyes finished at 34.6 percent.
Westbrook led the Gophers with 15 points in that meeting and now looks to bounce back after being held under double figures for the first time in 12 games.
Minnesota has lost two straight and seven of eight in Columbus.