No relief in sight as men’s hoops host tough Ohio State

by Jabari Ritchie

With his Minnesota basketball team looking to avoid a three-game skid against Ohio State Saturday, point guard Kevin Burleson was asked when the Gophers last knocked off the Buckeyes.

“I don’t know,” the junior captain said after thinking for a moment. “But it’s time for us to get a win.”

Burleson’s response was understandable. None of Minnesota’s players or coaches were involved with the Gophers team that beat Ohio State four years ago. The game was later retracted in the wake of Minnesota’s academic fraud scandal.

To leave Williams Arena with better memories on Saturday, Minnesota’s play must improve against 20th-ranked Buckeyes (15-2, 6-0 Big Ten) who beat Michigan 69-47 on Thursday.

“By the end of the year that’s probably going to look good when we’re trying to go to the (NCAA) tournament, beating a good team like that,” Burleson said. “It’s a good opportunity for us and we’ve got to seize it. As long as we play our butts off, I think we’ve got a chance to win.”

The Gophers (10-7, 3-3) had all week to address the problems that led to their late collapse at Michigan and a nine-point loss on the road against Wisconsin.

“I know we’ve had very competitive practices and I know we’ve been able to focus on ourselves, but I won’t know what dividends that’s going to pay until Saturday,” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. “You have to weigh that we haven’t played against anybody in a week versus guys being able to work on some things.”

Both Michigan and Wisconsin went on scoring runs to beat the Gophers.

“In every practice we went hard,” Burleson said. “We tried to show each other that we weren’t going to have any lapses, in practice or anything.

“We’ve got the talent to beat any team in the country, but we lose when we lose focus and concentration. That in turn makes other teams go on runs. As long as we go hard for 40 minutes, we’ll be OK.”

Ohio State, ranked second in the conference in scoring defense, has allowed an average of 58 points per game and has never let an opponent put more than 71 on the scoreboard.

The Buckeyes are second in rebounding differential at 6.6.

“If we only score 58, it’s going to be tough for us to win,” Monson said. “We’re giving up 70 a game. For us to win, something’s got to give. Either our defense has got to get markedly better or we’re going to have to get the tempo up and get some baskets.”

A win over Ohio State would give the Gophers a winning record after seven conference games for the first time during Monson’s three years with the program.

The last time a Minnesota team finished with a Big Ten record above .500 was five seasons ago.

“Every game counts the same and every game is just as important,” Monson said. “You need to win them all and this is the next one. As I tell my players, this is the most important game of the year because it’s the one that’s facing us.”

The contest against the conference-leading Buckeyes kicks off a three-game homestand for Minnesota, which is 9-1 at home.

“Hopefully, with the home crowd and everything, we’ll be able to bounce back,” said freshman forward Rick Rickert. “That will be interesting to see Saturday.”