OSU Turns Focus To Minnesota

The No. 6 Ohio State basketball team suffered perhaps its most heartbreaking loss on Saturday when it fell to Michigan State. Instead of taking control of the Big Ten race, the Buckeyes now find themselves in a dead sprint. Next up is Minnesota Tuesday night.

It was probably the amount of physical contact Jared Sullinger had to endure to this point in the season that had him showing obvious signs of frustration. Or maybe it was simply about what was at stake that had the Ohio State big man literally up in arms.

"We looked like spoiled brats out there," Sullinger said. "If you look at the tape, (we were) arguing with one another and complaining about calls. We just looked like spoiled brats out there."

Ohio State's 58-48 loss to Michigan State Saturday in Value City Arena significantly altered the outlook of the Buckeyes season. In just 40 minutes of basketball, Sullinger saw his team's opportunity to grab a stranglehold on the Big Ten race turn into a tie with the very Spartans that were roughing him up in the paint.

Remaining now for Ohio State (21-4, 9-3 Big Ten) is only six regular season games – including the season-finale at Michigan State on March 4 – and the insecurity that the Spartans' defensive strategy may have provided teams with an athletic post presence a blueprint for how to stop the Buckeyes in the postseason.

That's a lot to swallow after one loss – an otherwise common occurrence for teams that play in conferences as deep as the Big Ten. Ohio State head coach Thad Matta has only one piece of advice for his team, and that's to forget that it happened.

"So much of this is trying to get your players back if they're a little bit down," Matta said. "Now it becomes, 'That one is behind us; we have to continue to move forward.'"

The Buckeyes won't have the luxury of dwelling on what senior William Buford describes as the worst game the team has collectively played this season – remember, Ohio State shot only 26 percent from the floor in the loss to the Spartans. Ohio State returns to action Tuesday night at Minnesota.

There's no room for error if the Buckeyes plan on winning the fifth conference title in eight years under Matta. Against the Golden Gophers, the Buckeyes face a pivotal road contest against a team fighting for its NCAA Tournament life.

"I think I'm speaking for the whole team (in saying) we just chalked it up (to a bad day) and said we'll get (Michigan State) back on March 4th at their place," Sullinger said.

"If we keep dwelling on this Michigan State game and harping on it, pretty soon we're going to keep worrying about that Michigan State game and we're not going to be able to focus on the next game and we're going to let one slip past us. We have to stay focused on the present. We are focused on Minnesota."

Sixth-ranked Ohio State, who fell back three spots in the polls, has to only worry about No. 7 Michigan State, No. 17 Michigan and No. 15 Wisconsin when it comes to the Big Ten conference race. Heading into Tuesday, those four teams were only separated by a game and Ohio State still has remaining contests against all of them.

Though Minnesota (17-8, 5-7) is long out of the Big Ten title race, the Gophers are a team that remains in the NCAA Tournament picture. Some project the Big Ten could have as many as nine teams in this year's tournament, but a win against the Buckeyes could go a long way in determining Minnesota's postseason fate.

"We'd like to hope we'd be on the same level as Michigan State," said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, referring to the defensive intensity his team will need to play with if it plans to knock off Ohio State.

Ohio State must recover from a snapped 39-game home winning streak by extending another one. The Buckeyes have beaten Minnesota four consecutive times and by an average margin of 16.7 points per contest. Though the Gophers have been typically good on their home floor, they've lost three of five conference games in Williams Arena, also affectionately known as The Barn.

The best way for the Buckeyes to turn the page from the Michigan State loss is simple – win again. Sullinger's idea of how the Buckeyes plan to bounce back could be a good start in getting back in the win column.

"We just need to not do what we did against Michigan State," Sullinger said. "As long as we stay with the system, I believe we can come out with a win."

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