Ohio State Travels To Minnesota Saturday

Minnesota pulled out an overtime victory the last time it met up with Ohio State. This time, the Buckeyes will attempt to turn the table, but they will have to do it in historic Williams Arena, where the Gophers have been tough to beat this season. Ohio State will be playing without suspended forward Matt Sylvester.

Ohio State will look to keep sole possession of fourth place in the Big Ten when it travels to Minnesota on Saturday (5:07 p.m., ESPN Plus).

The Buckeyes (18-8, 7-5) have won six of their last seven games, including a 57-44 triumph over visiting Indiana on Tuesday.

The Golden Gophers (16-9, 6-6) have dropped three straight, the most recent being an 81-62 loss at Michigan State on Wednesday.

Minnesota defeated Ohio State 60-56 in overtime on Jan. 19 in Columbus. The Buckeyes allowed a late lead to slip away in that contest.

"I think as I go back and look, you have to give Minnesota credit for that game," OSU coach Thad Matta said. "They did a tremendous job of getting an early lead on us, and they didn't panic when we came back on them and took the lead. Honestly, it was a lot like the Indiana game, they made the plays down the stretch. It was great tip-in to win the game for them. We had a great shot to win it, didn't make it. That's what's great about conference play is you get a chance to play a team the second time and by the first five minutes everybody's cards will be on the table and now you've got to get out and get the job done."

The Gophers are led by 6-5 junior G/F Vincent Grier, a junior college transfer that has taken the Big Ten by storm. He leads Minnesota in scoring at 17.9 points per game and also averages 5.3 rebounds per game.

Other starters include: 7-0 senior center Jeff Hagen (11.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg), 6-9 freshman forward Dan Coleman (8.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg), 5-10 senior guard Aaron Robinson (7.5 ppg, 2.8 assists per game) and 6-4 senior guard Brent Lawson (7.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg).

The top two players off the bench are 6-0 freshman guard Rico Tucker (7.0 ppg) and 6-6 junior forward J'son Stamper (5.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg).

Ohio State will be playing without sixth-man Matt Sylvester, who has been suspended for one game for unsportsmanlike behavior toward a fan following the Michigan State game.

"Well, I think we just have to move forward," Matta said. "I've been in a lot of positions before where we've been down a player. I've been down three players before going into a game. So, we just kind of reassess where we are and move forward and hopefully go up there and play our best basketball.

"You learn from it, move forward and it's that old deal – it is what it is – and we've got to learn and move forward and get ready to play Minnesota."

The 6-7 Sylvester is having a good season. He is, appropriately, sixth on the team in scoring at 7.3 points per game. It was clearly not a good time for his latest incident.

"Yeah, it was an unfortunate incident and Matt feels bad," Matta said. "It's obviously one of those deals that we can't change and I don't condone it, but hey, we move on."

With Sylvester out, look for more of sophomore forward Ivan Harris. He has started all 26 games and is averaging 8.1 points, but Sylvester was seeing many more minutes than Harris recently.

"Yeah, I don't think a whole lot changes," Matta said. "Obviously we'll miss having (Sylvester) there, but we've been in this situation before. The other night against Indiana, he was sick as can be and in the first half was really not effective for us. So, like I said, we look at Ivan, James (Sullinger), Jermyl (Jackson-Wilson), Matt (Terwilliger). We'll just make due with what we've got."

Sylvester faced the music on Friday. He couldn't say much, but he attempted to answer some questions from reporters.

"I can't even speak on (exactly what happened)," Sylvester said. "But I made a mistake – my yearly mistake – and I'm paying for it."

Sylvester was likely provoked by one of the rowdy Michigan State fans, but he didn't want to reveal exactly what the fan did.

"You know how fans are, but I can't even really speak on that," he said. "The bottom line is that I made a mistake, did something I shouldn't have done and I'm very remorseful about it. It's terrible that I'm having a good year and this has to happen, but I hope that my teammates can go up to Minnesota and get a win. I think they are totally capable of doing that and I will feel even worse if they didn't. So, I've really been trying to talk to the guys and rally the troops, basically."

Sylvester did mention that the incident took place as he was leaving the court.

So, was it verbal, or non-verbal?

"Can't even talk about it," he said. "It was just one of those things where I was leaving the court and still had the competitive edge going and I just lost it for a second.

"You guys have seen fans, and that's what they do, and they're allowed to do that. I just reacted in a way that wasn't appropriate. They did what fans do. But I can't talk any more about it."

But why now? Why wasn't Sylvester suspended for one of the previous two games (Penn State, Indiana)?

"It had to go to the Big Ten and they had to review it," he said. "I'm thankful for the games that I got to play in and I'm going to serve my punishment and it's definitely my fault. It's no one's fault but mine and I'm just going to stand behind my teammates for the next couple days.

"One of our coaches came to me in the locker room after the Michigan State game and asked if it happened and I told him it did. I'm not going to lie to one of my coaches."

Sylvester joked that this is his "yearly mistake" but it's a little different this time around. Last year, when he was suspended for throwing an elbow in the face of an opposing player, he wasn't a key player on the team and wasn't missed all that much.

"Yeah, that's why it hurts so much, because I have such a big role on the team this year," he said. "Like I said, I really feel like I let these guys down and it's something that is definitely never going to happen again."

* Sullinger thinks the Buckeyes have enough players to go up to historic Williams Arena and steal a win. However, the Gophers are 12-3 at home this season.

"We have more than enough to pick up the pieces," Sullinger said. "Matt is awesome and he does a lot for us, but that's the thing we've done all season. When somebody is down, we've got to pick them up and that's what we're going to try to do."

Sullinger talked about the previous meeting between OSU and Minnesota.

"It was a tough one, because we shouldn't have lost the game," he said. "We had some bad plays at the end, which led us into overtime, and then we kind of ran out of steam. Back-to-back overtime losses (also to LSU), that was tough. So, yeah, it kind of sticks out in your mind, but a lot of them do. We've lost a few close games we should have won this year."

Sullinger says Matta is even more intense than usual when he's playing against a team that has already defeated him once.

"Well, you know, Coach Matta has told us he doesn't like to be swept," Sullinger said. "He doesn't like to lose to a team twice, and neither do we. He joked with us the other night at Indiana and said, ‘You've never seen a side of me when we're playing somebody that we've lost to,' and he was right. We saw a different side of Coach Matta. So, he's going to be intense, we're going to be intense and we're just going to try and do anything it takes to get the job done."

Sullinger knows that Minnesota is in the midst of a losing streak, but he still has a lot of respect for its personnel.

"They're a good team," he said. "They've got a great guard in Vincent Grier, they've got Hagen in the post and everybody else on their team is more than capable of making some big plays. But the one that stands out is Grier, because he had such a good game against us last time. He kind of took over the game a little bit in overtime and won the game for them. If we try and limit his easy looks – because you're not going to shut out a good player like him – but if you try and limit his easy looks, we'll be in good shape for the most part.

"They've got some good players and they've got some tough matchups, as everybody else does. We feel if we do what we're suppose to do and pay attention to scouting, pay attention to the coaches and what they're trying to tell us, they put us in great situation to get the job done. So if we do that, we'll be in pretty good shape."

Sullinger will likely check Grier for much of the game.

"I'll probably start out on him and Je'Kel (Foster) will also guard him," he said. "For the most part, it will be me and Je'Kel on him."

As for Matta, he obviously knows that the Buckeyes are not playing for an NCAA bid, but there is still plenty to play for in his opinion.

"Yeah, I think this: I think the beauty of college basketball is the length of the season," Matta said. "At times, it appears to be long, but I love the challenge of every day waking up and getting our men ready to go. We've got a guaranteed five games left and I want to make sure our guys have a great understanding that we're going to try and leave everything on the court, every time we take the court."


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