Three teams tied for first atop the Big Ten last season: Maryland, Michigan State and Wisconsin.
On Jan. 10, 2020, the Terrapins flew to Iowa City and got rolled in an 18-point loss to the Hawkeyes. On Jan. 12, 2020, the Spartans traveled to West Lafayette and fell in a 29-point defeat to Purdue. On Jan. 24, 2020, the Badgers went to West Lafayette and got drilled in a 19-point loss to the Boilermakers, and two weeks later they went to Minneapolis and got whooped in an 18-point loss to the Golden Gophers.
In the Big Ten, double-digit-point losses can happen. They’ll happen to the conference’s best teams, they’ll happen to the conference’s worst teams, and they’ll happen to everybody in between. But games like the one on Sunday between Ohio State and Minnesota can’t become what defines a season for the loser. They can’t turn into a regularity or a theme of a given year.
The Golden Gophers routed the Buckeyes, handing them a 77-60 loss that felt like an even greater margin of victory than the scoreboard indicated. Ohio State trailed for more than 38 minutes of Wednesday’s showdown yet failed to string together a run of more than four points at a time in the latter 30 minutes.
“One thing I know for sure – I'm a junior now – it's not going to get easier,” Duane Washington Jr. said. “No matter where you go, who you're playing against, the Big Ten is the toughest conference in the country. We all knew how tough this game was going to be. They're rolling right now. They're playing some really good basketball, and they were comfortable tonight in their own arena.
“Our job was to come in here and make them uncomfortable, and we didn't do our job at a high enough level and they just got what they wanted. Punked us, basically. It was their night.”
Liam Robbins ate the Buckeyes’ undersized frontcourt up inside, recording a career-high 27 points and 14 rebounds, and he prevented Ohio State from getting many easy buckets around the rim. Minnesota, which entered the day as the Big Ten's least-efficient outside-shooting team, went 9-of-22 from 3-point range while turning it over just nine times. As their strategy dictated, the Buckeyes blitzed Marcus Carr at every opportunity, but his teammates made plays off of him.
Outside of Duane Washington Jr.’s 21 points on 12 shots, nobody on Ohio State could get things going consistently offensively. E.J. Liddell is the only other Buckeyes who managed more than six points, but he needed 11 shots to score 10 points. They shot 31.1 percent from the field and the non-Washington players went 2-for-20 from behind the 3-point arc.
“I'm just very disappointed in myself,” Liddell said. “I've got to get better, a lot better, if we want to wins some games in this conference because my team needs me. I just can't let them down like that again.”
He also pointed to a lack of physicality and energy with how he played, and his head coach saw something similar yet more widespread.
“It wasn't just their big size,” Chris Holtmann said. “Their guards are very physical, very physical. And we didn't handle it well. We didn't handle the stuff that you need to handle in a game that's this physical. It was not just, by any stretch, E.J. It was across the board, and certainly that's my fault. We've got to get them more ready for that level of physicality.”
The positives were few: Washington’s offensive efficiency, Carr’s inefficiency, only 11 turnovers committed and 16 offensive rebounds pulled down. That’s it.
In short, not much went right for Ohio State.
This was the first time the Buckeyes received what surely felt like a butt-whooping this season, having lost by one point at Northwestern and seven points at Purdue last month, but they won’t be alone in experiencing something like that. What matters more than any individual game is bouncing back strong and avoiding it becoming a regularity.
They’ll welcome Penn State to the Schottenstein Center on Wednesday before going to New Jersey to face Rutgers on Saturday in their next road game. It's up to them to put this in the past and leave it as a soon-to-be forgotten night they learned from.
“It's frustrating to everybody,” Washington said. “Everybody copes with losses their own ways. A lot of different guys on the team cope with it differently. So my job is to bring us together, whether it's positive talking, we watch film, going hard in practice, talking to the coaches and just expressing that it's going to get tougher, but we're a good team ourselves.
“We do a lot of really good things, and we need to believe in ourselves at a really high level. We should never, ever, ever forget that. I think tonight, coming here to Minnesota and playing on their court, it's different. So we're going to learn. Every loss is a learn. Every win is a learn. We learn from it. So every experience we go through, we're going to learn from.”