Emotions were high when Ohio State lost at Minnesota earlier this month. The Buckeyes, though, have been the more composed team since then.
Undefeated at home, the 20th-ranked Buckeyes look to avenge that loss as they meet the struggling Gophers on Sunday.
Ohio State (15-6, 5-3 Big Ten) was in danger of letting its season slip away following a 73-62 defeat to Minnesota (13-7, 4-4) on Jan. 9, its third loss in four games. The frustration showed during that matchup between the rivals, with some trash talk igniting tempers.
Players from both teams had to be separated at mid-court just prior to halftime and also after the final buzzer.
While the Gophers went on to lose their next three, the Buckeyes won three in a row - the first two against ranked teams. Ohio State then lost 71-65 at then-No. 11 West Virginia on Jan. 23 before bouncing back four days later with a 65-57 win at Iowa.
The Buckeyes are hoping a three-game stretch at Value City Arena will help them improve their place in the league standings. They’re 12-0 at home, beating opponents by an average of 27.3 points.
“Somebody’s going to make a run, and we’re going to try to,” forward Evan Turner said.
Turner had 16 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists versus Iowa, falling short of his third triple-double of the season. He’s averaging 18.4 points, 5.5 assists and a Big Ten-best 9.9 rebounds.
Turner had 19 points, seven assists, four steals and two blocks in this season’s first matchup with Minnesota.
Gophers senior guard Blake Hoffarber scored a career-high 27 points in that contest, making six 3-pointers in the second half. He had a combined 15 points in his next three games but bounced back with 20 as Minnesota snapped a three-game losing streak with a 65-61 win over Northwestern on Tuesday night.
Hoffarber added seven rebounds and four assists for the Gophers, who are trying to keep their NCAA tournament bid from falling too far off track.
“You’re supposed to look one game at a time like we do, but … that’s one of our goals come March,” Hoffarber said. “Hopefully we can be playing our best basketball come March.”
Hoffarber is first in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting, making 49.6 percent of his attempts. He has had to step up with guard Al Nolen becoming academically ineligible last week.
Sophomore Devoe Joseph is averaging 10.5 points and 4.5 assists in two games since replacing Nolen in the starting lineup. Minnesota still has strong depth, with five reserves playing at least 10 minutes against Northwestern.
“I think that’s one of our strengths,” Hoffarber said. “We have a lot of guys that can play. I think when those guys give us a lift when (the starters) come out, it definitely tires the other team and then we come in with fresh legs. Any time they’re playing well, our whole team starts clicking.”
Minnesota beat Ohio State earlier this month despite getting six points on 2-of-10 shooting from its bench. The Buckeyes lead the series 74-55.
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