No. 16 Ohio State looks to shake off inconsistency vs. Minnesota
Please forgive Ohio State if the team doesn't look crisp when it tips off against host Minnesota on Thursday evening in Minneapolis.
The 16th-ranked Buckeyes are coming off a Jan. 18 win over IUPUI, which barely competed in an 83-37 rout. Ohio State's next game was canceled due to COVID-19 issues within Nebraska's program.
So essentially it will be 11 days since the Buckeyes took part in a competitive game by the time they face the Golden Gophers (11-5, 2-5 Big Ten).
Ohio State (12-4, 5-2) has won eight of its past 10 games, beginning with an upset of then-No. 1 Duke on Nov. 30.
The Buckeyes have not looked great in their past five conference games, however. They needed overtime to defeat Nebraska, then lost to Indiana by 16 points before scuffling to the finish line in a win over Northwestern, losing to Wisconsin, and most recently slipping past Penn State by five points.
That run of inconsistency preceded the blowout of IUPUI -- a game in which Ohio State shot 57.1 percent from the field and 11 of 23 from 3-point range against the Jaguars, who fell to 1-15 with the loss.
"This is a game we're playing a team we knew was in rebuild mode," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. "This was as much as anything about us continuing to make some improvements in some areas."
One player in need of improvements lately is Justin Ahrens, who is 7 of 33 from long distance over his past seven contests.
"He's a tremendous shooter, a tremendous shooter. I really don't worry about it at all," Holtmann said. "I think he's gonna hit his stride. It's the least of my concerns."
The Buckeyes need Ahrens to be a long-range threat so that he can complement E.J. Liddell and Zed Key, among others. Lidell is coming off a 13-point, 10-rebound performance against IUPUI -- his first double-double since the win over Duke.
Minnesota's primary concerns revolve around three players who missed Saturday's 68-65 win over Rutgers. The Gophers played without three starters, including leading scorer Jamison Battle (18.0 points per game).
In their place, Payton Willis starred with a career-high 32 points. He tied a program record for 3-pointers made in a game, finishing 8 of 13 from beyond the arc.
"(Willis) knows he's going to be the focal point of every team's defense, especially when Jamison's not in," Minnesota coach Ben Johnson said. "Credit to him to stay composed, and his confidence level I think carries a lot of guys, and that's what we have to have."
Minnesota had only seven scholarship players available vs. Rutgers. It is unclear which Gophers will be ready to return for the game against Ohio State.
"We want everyone to be healthy, but in today's day and age, I just don't know if that's really realistic," Johnson said. "Stuff happens and stuff snowballs, whether that's injury, sickness, flu, COVID, whatever. I think for them to be able to do that and then have belief in whoever plays is huge."
Minnesota defeated Ohio State in the regular season last year, 77-60, before falling to the Buckeyes 79-75 in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 26, 2022