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Men’s basketball: Ohio State looking to right the tide, redemption against Minnesota

OSU senior forward Marc Loving (left), junior Trevor Thompson (middle) and sophomore guard C.J. Jackson defend Fairleigh Dickinson junior guard Darian Anderson in the Buckeyes win over the Knights.

It’s the tail end of January, and the Ohio State men’s basketball team might be out of the Big Ten and national picture. Although the team is remaining positive through the downfall, the possibility of losing its sixth conference game in eight contests is looming with the arrival of Minnesota, who defeated OSU earlier this year.

Frustrated with the lack of leadership by his teammates following the Buckeyes’ heartbreaking loss to Northwestern on Sunday, redshirt junior guard Kam Williams stood in the locker room and expressed his displeasure with OSU’s performance as of late after coach Thad Matta had a loss for words. For Williams, the only avenue from here is up for him and his team.

With 12 more conference games remaining, odds are the Buckeyes are going to find themselves on the losing end again before the season ends. However, Williams feels this is the low-point for OSU, no matter what happens from here on out.

“We still got a losing record, so if that’s not rock bottom to you, I don’t know what is,” he said on Tuesday.

The Gophers handled OSU 78-68 last time the teams met, two weeks ago. Led by freshman guard Amir Coffey, who earned his second highest scoring output to that point with 19. Coffey found most of his success in the paint, and the Buckeyes had no answer for the freshman.

Down the stretch, OSU failed to keep Minnesota at bay, never finding a way to keep the Gophers from scoring and mounting a comeback. Williams singled out the play of the guards for Minnesota, including Coffey, as the engine that propelled the Gophers.

“I just feel like, with the last game (against Minnesota), we just didn’t get enough stops that we needed at the crucial parts of the second half,” he said. “Because I feel like if we would have got a big-time stop and a score, and then keep repeating, we would’ve come out on top. Playing against Minnesota is definitely fun. They like to get up and down in transition. They have a lot of great guards.”

Minnesota has lost three straight games following its win over the Buckeyes, most recently in overtime against No. 17 Wisconsin. Badgers sophomore big man Ethan Happ dominated the game in the paint, scoring 28 points.

The Buckeyes could find similar success inside, with the services of junior center Trevor Thompson, who is averaging 10.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game this season. Last time against Minnesota, Thompson picked up 15 points and 15 rebounds.

Freshman center Micah Potter, who has been sharing time with Thompson for most of the season, said he feels the struggles for OSU all rest on the shoulders of the players, not the coaching staff.

“It’s up to us,” Potter said. “Coach Matta has proved he can win. He’s had teams that made Finals Fours, made national championship games. And that’s because they trusted in the system.”

Consistency has been an issue all year for the Buckeyes, and it was never more apparent than against Northwestern. After pulling close to the Wildcats, and even briefly taking a lead, OSU faltered and sputtered, squandering the small lead.

If the Scarlet and Gray has any hope of heading in the right direction against Minnesota, they must take care of the ball and play stout defense.

“We have segments throughout the course of a game where we play really good basketball,” Matta said. “I’ve kind of been saying this all along. We’ve got to have those stretches. It’s the ones in between that are costing us.”

Matta said on Tuesday he was pleased that Williams has made an effort to be a vocal leader. The trying times are when the true stars and floor generals emerge, he said.

“Everybody can lead when things are good.” he said.

OSU faces Minnesota at home on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

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