Minnesota's early-season schedule featured many challenging games against quality opponents.
On Sunday night Minnesota faced its toughest test to date as the team took on No. 16 Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio. In their first Big Ten game, the Gophers failed to match the play of their competition.
Ohio State (7-1, 1-0 Big Ten) defeated Minnesota (6-2, 0-1 Big Ten) 79-59, as the Gophers struggled throughout the evening. The result wasn't in question for much of the second half as Ohio State looked like the better team from the opening tip.
"They sent a message, 'Welcome to the Big Ten' and we didn't respond," head coach Richard Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network. "It started with missed block-outs early, they were obliterating us on the glass. They 'out-toughed' us in every facet of the game and we learned a valuable lesson."
Thanks to a 21-2 run early in the first half, Ohio State jumped out to a 26-7 lead. Minnesota battled back as the game neared halftime, cutting the Buckeyes' lead to as little as eight, but that was as close as the Gophers got.
After a pair of Jordan Murphy free throws made the score 41-31, Ohio State went on a 7-0 run to extend its lead to 17 with 17 minutes to go. Their lead didn't fluctuate much from there and the Buckeyes cruised to victory.
Minnesota particularly struggled to shoot and rebound. They made 20 of 51 shots from the field, (.392) and gave up 13 offensive rebounds to Ohio State, many of which came in the game's first ten minutes. Overall, the Buckeyes won the rebounding battle 42 to 33.
"I just thought their physicality pushed us back, had us on our heels," Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network. "I told them very, very simple: 'They showed you what the Big Ten is all about.' We just could not handle their physicality."
On a night when he collected his 1,000th-career rebound, senior Jordan Murphy was not his usual, dominant self. He totaled seven points and seven rebounds as foul trouble limited him to 24 minutes. Minnesota's starting guards were a bright spot as junior Amir Coffey led all scorers with 19 points and senior Dupree McBrayer added 13. However, freshman Gabe Kalscheur, who was previously averaging almost 14 points per game, did not score.
Brothers junior Andre Wesson and sophomore Kaleb Wesson led Ohio State with 16 and 15 points respectively. In what figures to be an extremely competitive year in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes gave Minnesota its first glimpse of what looks like a demanding conference schedule.
"We've got to learn from this," Pitino told the Gopher Radio Network. "Everybody has to look themselves in the mirror and say, 'Ok, that's unacceptable.' We haven't been home in forever, we're clearly tired. We have to be able to bounce back and embrace playing on our home court because we haven't been there in a while."
After opening the conference slate with a loss, winning their first Big Ten home game is imperative for the Gophers. Minnesota will return to Williams Arena for the first time since November 12 on Wednesday night when the team takes on Nebraska.