Columbus, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - Hoping the keep pace in the race for the Big Ten Conference regular-season title, the 24th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes play host to the Minnesota Golden Gophers this evening at Value City Arena.
Minnesota had a successful run through the non-conference portion of its schedule (11-2), but Big Ten play has resulted in less-than-ideal results (6-8). The Golden Gophers are coming off a 62-49 loss at home to Illinois, and they've dropped two of their last three and five of their last seven overall. UM is an even 4-4 in true road games this season.
Ohio State had been considered among one of the top two or three contenders in the Big Ten prior to start of conference play, and actually after its first two league bouts. But a 72-68 overtime loss to Michigan State started the team on a downward spiral that would see it lose four in a row, and five of six overall. The Buckeyes have however, bounced back to win two straight and five of their last six. OSU is 15-3 at home this season.
Ohio State owns an 82-50 lead in the all-time series with Minnesota, with its most recent triumph coming in a 63-53 decision in Minneapolis on Jan. 16 of this year.
Despite its favorable overall record, Minnesota is rather vanilla in averaging 72.3 ppg while permitting 67.3 ppg. The team features three double-digit scorers, and another five that net between 5.8 and 9.4 ppg, led by Andre Hollins and his 14.9 ppg. DeAndre Mathieu adds 11.6 ppg and Austin Hollins 11.2 ppg, with the former also serving as the team's primary playmaker (115 assists), and the latter one of its top rebounders (5.9 rpg).
The Gophers dropped a double-digit decision to visiting Illinois earlier this week, as the team failed to establish much in the way of an offensive rhythm by shooting a meager 37.3 percent from field, which included a 4-of-25 effort from 3-point range. Andre Hollins led the way with 15 points, while Austin Hollins and Maurice Walker chipped in 10 apiece. Minnesota turned the ball over 15 times, and was outscored at the charity stripe, 16-7.
Ohio State's bread and butter is it's ability to play shutdown defense, as evidenced by the fact that foes are producing just 58.6 ppg (eighth in the country) in shooting a mere 39.9 percent from the field, which includes a 27.1 percent showing from beyond the arc. When facing the basket, the Buckeyes generate 70.7 ppg thanks to typical shooting outputs of .453 overall and .345 from downtown. LaQuinton Ross (14.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (11.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg) are OSU's only double-digit scorers at the moment, although a couple more are close to joining the ranks. Aaron Craft (9.6 ppg, 4.6 apg) is one of the best set-up men around, while Amir Williams (8.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 47 blocks) provides a presence on the interior.
Ross hit for 16 points, Smith, Jr. had a double-double consisting of 14 points and 10 rebounds, Craft had 14 points as well, and Sam Thompson finished with 11, all of which the Buckeyes used to post a 73-60 win over the visiting Northwestern Wildcats earlier this week. Ohio State shot 46 percent from the floor, knocking down 7-of-16 3-point tries, while also claiming a substantial 23-9 edge in points from the foul line. The 'Cats were held to just 5-of-21 efficiency from long range.