COLUMBUS, Ohio – Early Big Ten basketball games can be a blessing or a curse for teams depending on where they’re at identity-wise after the first month of the season.
Records can be misleading, too.
Minnesota and Ohio State both entered Sunday’s conference opener at 6-1, with wins against quality opponents. The Gophers, though, didn’t look ready for the toughness of the Big Ten and were completely overmatched physically in a 79-59 loss against the No. 16 Buckeyes in front of 11,668 at Value City Arena.
The Buckeyes won their 11th straight game against the Gophers in Columbus. They pulled away in the first half with a 21-2 run that saw them never let up after holding a 17-4 rebounding edge with 10 second-chance points early. Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann’s team dominated in areas that Gophers coach Richard Pitino hopes will eventually be strengths for his squad — scrappiness and toughness.
“They were the way more physical team, imposing their will on us,” Pitino said. “Absolutely obliterating us on the backboard at the beginning of the game, and it set the tone for their guys. We were not ready for that physicality. We have to look ourselves in the mirror — players, coaches and myself — and figure out what we need to correct and move on.”
Two days after his 26-point, 14-rebound performance in a win over Oklahoma State at U.S. Bank Stadium, Jordan Murphy became the 14th player in Big Ten history to reach 1,000 career rebounds, but he managed just seven points and seven boards in 24 minutes.
The Gophers’ frontcourt was outplayed by the Buckeyes’ rugged interior, which included 270-pound Kaleb Wesson, who had 14 of his 15 points in the second half. Minnesota was outrebounded 42-33 and gave up 20 second-chance points in the game.
“It’s just about having that physical mind-set and playing tough,” Murphy said. “We have to keep this bitter taste in our mouth and just get the mindset back of being gritty and playing tough.”
Amir Coffey had 19 points on 7-for-16 shooting to lead the Gophers.
It certainly didn’t help any comeback hopes that the Gophers became the first Big Ten opponent to go 0-fer from beyond the arc (0-for-13) against Ohio State since 1992. Freshman Gabe Kalscheur, who had made 23 threes and was averaging 13.7 points coming in, was held scoreless on 0-for-3 shooting.
The Gophers were playing away from Williams Arena for the sixth straight game, and this was their second true road game. The other resulted in a 12-point loss at Boston College.
Much like that night in Boston, it probably wouldn’t have mattered where this game had been played. The Gophers were outhustled for loose balls and let bad offense turn into careless mistakes on both ends.
Murphy takes a beating every game, but he also dishes out punishment with his 250-pound frame. Daniel Oturu and Matz Stockman are more length than bulk and might continue to struggle against physical opponents, but more help inside could come sooner than later.
Redshirt sophomore Eric Curry, who has missed all eight games after surgery on his previously repaired left knee, is targeting a return in the next couple weeks.
“Yeah, I was talking to him and he said it should be soon, hopefully,” Murphy said. “We’re looking forward to that.”