The Buckeyes have played in just one true road game this season, a 64-55 loss at Louisville, and it’s been over a month since they played in a truly hostile environment.
“It’s time,” head coach Thad Matta said of hitting the road. “This is what you sign up for when you come to Ohio State, these are the type of games that you are going to play in.
“Our whole thing is we have to go in and play really, really good basketball. I don’t care that we’re 1-1 and they’re 0-2, and four of our next five games are on the road, I just want to play well up there.”
As the coach said, the game against the Gophers begins a tough stretch for Ohio State. The Buckeyes follow Minnesota with a game at Indiana before a home contest with Michigan. They follow the Wolverines with consecutive road games at Iowa and Northwestern.
Two of Minnesota’s four losses have come at home this season. The Gophers are on a two game losing streak, opening conference play with defeats at Purdue and Maryland, making their conference home opener against Ohio State a must win.
“It’s very difficult,” senior Shannon Scott said of going on the road in the Big Ten. “Last year, every road game was a tough game for us. There was no road game where we easily won the game. This year we haven’t won on the road yet. We know it’s going to be tough for us and (the freshmen) should understand that as well.”
Ohio State went just 4-5 in conference road games last season, including a 10-point loss in Minneapolis. None of the Buckeyes Big Ten road wins came by more than nine points a year ago.
In order to get off to a good start on the road this season, Ohio State will have to shut down a diversified Minnesota attack. The Gophers are third in the country in assists with 18.9 per game and boast four players who are averaging double digits this season.
The Buckeyes shifted to a man-to-man defense late in the first half against Illinois on Saturday, a move that propelled them to their first conference win. Matta was unclear whether that scheme would continue throughout the season.
When the change was made against the Illini, Ohio State’s rotation thinned. Keita Bates-Diop and Kam Williams did not play in the second half against Illinois while Jae’Sean Tate and starting center Amir Williams got just a minute or playing time after intermission.
Matta said that was more a product of liking the way the players on the floor were playing than an indictment of those on the bench, adding that those players are capable of playing man defense.
On the other end of the court, Minnesota presents a challenge for the Buckeyes offense. The Gophers are second in the country in steals per game with 11.7 a contest.
“We know they are going to be active,” Scott said. “They’re going to press and trap in the full court and half court. We just got to stay calm and stay focused and stick to the scheme. Not really trying to go away from anything, just staying under control.”
If the Buckeyes can do that, they can secure their first road win of the season and get above .500 in league play. While all conference games are important, starting their stretch of four of five on the road with a win would be a big step for the team.
Marc Loving knows it won’t be an easy win to come by.
“All Big Ten teams are competitive and it’s going to be that much more difficult on the road,” the forward said. “Just bringing our A-game, coming out with a lot of energy the first four minutes and getting the first half started out well will be what we need to do.”