Men’s basketball: Buckeyes’ tailspin picking up speed

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Jim Mone | ASSOCIATED PRESS
Ohio State center Trey McDonald puts up a shot as Minnesota's Joey King, right, tries for the block. McDonald did not score in the game.

MINNEAPOLIS — Coach Thad Matta kept his Ohio State players behind the closed door of the locker room much longer than usual last night.

There was either a lot to talk about or a lot to ponder, or both, about why the Buckeyes have lost three games in a row for the first time in five years. They haven’t found any answers yet, except for one:

“We’re at rock bottom right now. We’re the lowest we can go,” junior LaQuinton Ross said. “There’s only one place we can go from here, and that’s up the rest of the season.”

Well, mathematically, they could fall further, but they are pretty low considering the heights the program has enjoyed.

Undefeated and ranked third in the nation 10 days ago, the Buckeyes followed up losses to ranked opponents in their two previous games with another to unranked Minnesota last night, 63-53 in Williams Arena.

The loss dropped Ohio State (15-3, 2-3) into a tie for eighth place in the Big Ten.

The score was tied at halftime, but the Buckeyes let the game get away from them with a second half that resembled the one they played against Iowa on Sunday. They made only 7 of 22 shots from the field and had 10 turnovers as their six-game winning streak against the Golden Gophers ended.

“The shots we felt we were going to get, we got. They, for whatever reason, weren’t going down,” said Matta, whose team shot 35.3 percent for the game against a zone defense that Minnesota employed from start to finish.

Ross led the Buckeyes with 22 points and had 11 of their 24 points in the second half. Sam Thompson was the only other scorer in double figures with 12.

Once again, guards Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott combined for a majority of the team’s turnovers — nine of the 13. Twelve of the turnovers were steals by the Gophers.

“It’s on us,” Craft said. “We can’t put our team in positions like that.”

Guard DeAndre Mathieu led Minnesota (14-4, 3-2) with 13 points, and center Elliott Eliason had 12 points and 13 rebounds.

Ohio State had a one-point lead with less than 13 minutes to play before going scoreless for more than four minutes and falling behind 46-39. After the Buckeyes rallied to within 48-45, Minnesota rebuilt its lead to six, and turnovers by Ross and Craft in a span of three possessions just under the four-minute mark helped extend the Gophers’ lead to 57-46 with less than three minutes to play.

“We talked (at halftime) about being more aggressive, stop being so passive,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said.

When Ohio State had the one-point lead before Minnesota’s decisive push, Matta went with a smaller, two-forward lineup and stayed with it for seven minutes despite the Gophers’ bigger centers, Eliason and Mo Walker, taking advantage of it.

The pair combined for seven points as Minnesota regained the lead and built it to 50-45 before Matta put Amir Williams, who was not in foul trouble, back in the game with 5:01 left.

“We were just trying to score,” Matta said of his reason for keeping Williams on the bench.

Sophomore guard Amedeo Della Valle, the team’s second-best three-point shooter and who might have helped against the zone defense, did not make the trip because of a bone bruise on his left knee he suffered on Sunday. His status is day to day, according to a team spokesman.

The game was the first of four the Buckeyes will play on the road in a six-game stretch. They are at Nebraska on Monday, return home to face Illinois and Penn State, then play at Wisconsin and Iowa.

The Buckeyes attacked the Gophers’ zone defense better than they had Iowa’s, creating open shots. But they failed to convert, making just 11 of their 29 field-goal attempts in the first half, which ended with the score tied at 29. Minnesota could not take advantage, because while it shot 57.1 percent from the field, it gave away more opportunities with 10 turnovers. The Buckeyes had only three in the half.

bbaptist@dispatch.com

@BBaptistHoops

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