Ohio State has lost three in a row for the first time since the 2009 season. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
It seems like only yesterday that Ohio State sat undefeated with a strong start in Big Ten play. In fact, it was less than two weeks ago when the Buckeyes had reeled off 15 straight victories to start the season and climbed to No. 3 in the country.
But since an 84-53 rout of Nebraska on Jan. 4, the wheels have seemingly come off of Ohio State.
The Buckeyes dropped their third straight game since that 15-0 start with a 63-53 loss at Minnesota on Thursday, a result that also snapped a six-game winning streak by Ohio State in the Big Ten series.
The Gophers took advantage of a lively home crowd at The Barn in Minneapolis and kept things tight with the Buckeyes in the first half. Both squads headed into intermission with 29 points apiece, but the second half was when Minnesota began to overtake an Ohio State squad that appeared to run out of gas.
After the Buckeyes' LaQuinton Ross sunk two free throws for a 39-38 lead with 13:41 to play, Deandre Mathieu and Maurice Walker combined for eight straight points for the Gophers as Minnesota took control with a 46-39 lead, the team's largest lead of the night up to that point. But Ohio State wasn't done. Sam Thompson connected on a layup with the foul and brought the Buckeyes back to within three, 48-45, on the ensuing free throw with 5:44 remaining.
Moments later, Minnesota began to put the game away for good. Andre Hollins tossed in a 3-pointer before the Gophers forced an Ohio State turnover and Austin Hollins banked in a layup. Minnesota suddenly led 57-46 with 2:38 to play. Coach Richard Pitino's crew didn't let up, either, increasing its lead to 14 at one point down the stretch before the game was sealed. In all, the Gophers held an Ohio State team that averaged better than 75 points per game to 53 points and 36-percent shooting.
Minnesota was able to shake the Ohio State monkey off its back and overcome its own poor luck against the Buckeyes while also proving its ability to handle big-time conference foes. This was the first win over a ranked opponent this season for the Gophers, which could possibly propel this team going forward.
Ohio State, meanwhile, is in a state of disarray. Prior to Thursday, the Buckeyes had lost their last two games to No. 20 Iowa and No. 5 Michigan State. Now a team that was ranked third in the country only a few days ago is suddenly searching for answers after major trouble in Big Ten play. The loss to Minnesota marked the first three-game losing streak for coach Thad Matta's program since the 2009 season.
The good news for the Buckeyes is that they've been here before. Ohio State lost three of four games in the middle of February last season to ranked foes in Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin before reeling off 11 straight wins en route to an Elite Eight berth. But this Buckeyes squad isn't going anywhere until Ross, Aaron Craft
and this roster can prove its ability to survive tough road venues. Two of Ohio State's three losses have come on the road so far, and it still must travel to Wisconsin and Iowa at the beginning of February. Matta's crew might have a bit of growing up to do if a deep tournament run is in Ohio State's future.