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January 16, 2014

Sliding and sputtering

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Consider Ohio State in mid-freefall and its former status as the third-best team in the country perhaps a mirage until proven otherwise.

Reeling off of back-to-back losses to Iowa and Michigan State last week, the eleventh-ranked Buckeyes dropped their third-straight contest to unranked Minnesota, 63-53, Thursday at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minn. It's the first time Ohio State has lost three games in a row since February of 2009. The loss also snapped a six-game win streak against the Golden Gophers and 41-straight wins against unranked opponents in the regular season.

"You have to face reality and look at where we are, knowing that we've got to find ways to play ourselves out of this," coach Thad Matta told reporters in a postgame interview.

"That's the biggest challenge saying, 'Where are we?' Then you say, this is where we are, this is what we have to do, this is how we have to do it and we have to get the job done."

Junior forward LaQuinton Ross had 22 points and reserve junior forward Sam Thompson came off the bench to add 12, but no other Buckeye found double figures at The Barn. Additionally, Amedeo Della Valle missed the game with a bruised knee and his condition remains day-to-day.

In fact, aside from Ross, Ohio State's other four starters -- senior guards Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr., junior guard Shannon Scott and junior center Amir Williams -- combined for a total of 19 total points 6-of-22 shooting.

"We really, really struggled making shots," Matta said.

"We were trying to generate anything we could offensively ... We wanted to extend our pressure out there and we got caught behind. We gave them post position like we were surprised they were going to go inside on us." Despite curbing a tendency to turn the ball over (they had 38 total against the Hawkeyes and the Spartans compared to 13 Thursday night), the Buckeyes were 18-of-51 from the floor for 35 percent while the Golden Gophers connected of 51 percent of their shots.

Minnesota turned the ball over 18 times -- and 10 times in the first half -- but trotted into intermission tied at 29 despite leading by as many as six points. Against an frigid Ohio State team floundering on offense and struggling on defense, it dominated the second half. In total, the Buckeyes were outrebounded, 39-24.

After Ross made a free throw to make it a 50-46 contest with about four minutes to play, the Golden Gophers surged past the Buckeyes on a 13-7 run down the stretch.

Ohio State is set to play Nebraska Monday at 7 p.m. in Lincoln, Neb.

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