MINNEAPOLIS – As they filed into Williams Arena, the late-arriving partisan crowd greeted the start of Sunday night's game with a wait-and-see vibe.
After all, this Minnesota team brought a sub-.500 record into a home game against the No. 3 team in the nation, a high-flying Ohio State squad that had deigns on ascending to the No. 1 spot in Monday's Associated Press poll after an impressive 9-0 start to the season.
So while the Barn can get rocking, it wasn't exactly at full throat as the teams traded buckets early. But then, somewhere inside an early 13-2 run that gave Minnesota a lead it would never relinquish, it gained momentum like a snowball rolling down one of the sidewalks outside packed down with the white stuff.
Sixteen steps from the main floor, which is three steps below the famous raised court, the din was still subsiding as senior Andre Wesson and freshman D.J. Carton tried to explain what had just happened. After finishing off an 84-71 win against Ohio State, the Minnesota faithful had charged the floor to dance at midcourt as the Buckeyes retreated to their locker room in the lowest part of the arena.
It was a game that bore no resemblance to any of the previous nine. And as the lone scholarship senior on the roster, Wesson said the blame fell on his shoulders. They he laid out his case.
“I've got to set the tone,” Wesson told The Dispatch standing in the hallway outside the team's locker room. “I wasn't physical enough. I didn't bring enough energy. At halftime I didn't have any rebounds. That's not acceptable. Being a senior, I've got to set that tone.”
There was plenty of blame to go around. With Duane Washington Jr. out with a rib injury, the Buckeyes couldn't get much going offensively and struggled to put the ball in dangerous places on the court. They turned it over early and often. Minnesota's physicality and length stressed them in ways they hadn't experienced this season.
But most importantly, their defense didn't travel with them to Minnesota. Ohio State had held opponents to a collective .333 shooting percentage through nine games, and nobody had shot better than 42.4 percent or scored more than 74 points against the Buckeyes.
With Pitt transfer guard Marcus Carr running the show and attacking the basket to little resistance, the Golden Gophers shot 54.4 percent as a team. It tied exactly their season-best shooting performance, one that came in an 85-50 win against Cleveland State in the season opener.
Carr was ever-present. No player had scored more than 19 against the Buckeyes this season. After scoring seven in the first half, Carr had 28 after the break and passed 19 points when a pair of free throws with 9:43 left moved him to 20.
As the Buckeyes tried to mount some kind of late comeback, he scored 15 in the final 7:18.
“That's a lot of points, but we knew coming in he was a really good player and a hard matchup,” coach Chris Holtmann told The Dispatch after the game. “(He's a) bigger-bodied guard that has caused us trouble with his size and frame.”
He was referring to Penn State's Tony Carr, who punished the Buckeyes in a three-game season sweep two seasons ago that helped deny them a Big Ten title in Holtmann's first season. That Carr was the last player to have eclipsed 30 points against Ohio State.
This Carr scored his career-high 35 points on 12-of-17 shooting. He was 3 of 6 from three, meaning he finished on nine of his 11 shots inside the three-point arc. An Ohio State team that had excelled at keeping teams out of the paint and away from the rim had no answers.
“That's definitely a collective thing,” Wesson said. “We're big on team defense. It's not ever one guy. We throw too many bodies at people, it's never just one guy. That's a team defense thing and it's something we've got to clean up.”
Wesson was the only player on this roster to have played any minutes inside Williams Arena. The last time the Buckeyes were here, he saw four minutes of playing time in a 78-68 loss on Jan. 8, 2017, that felt similar to this one. Ohio State got 20 points from Jae'Sean Tate in that game and 15 from Trevor Thompson.
For everyone else on this roster, it was a new arena thanks to random scheduling quirks that included Minnesota forfeiting a home game to face the Buckeyes in a neutral-court game at Madison Square Garden during the 2017-18 season.
“This is the Big Ten,” Wesson said. “Any team in this conference can beat any team in this conference, so we knew if we're not ready to come out and play this could happen. This is a good team. Credit to them. We've got to be more ready.”
The Buckeyes played without a key part of their lineup as Washington Jr. missed the game with a rib injury that had kept him from practice all week. His availability for Tuesday's game against Southeast Missouri State isn't known, but he is officially listed as day-to-day.
Without his shot-making ability, the Ohio State offense bogged down early and often. That, in turn, created more pressure on junior center Kaleb Wesson, who was able to be pressured and frustrated as much as at any point this season.
While Washington's absence certainly contributed to the loss, the Buckeyes didn't pin it all on that.
“Obviously Duane's a big piece to our team, but our team's so deep so we can't use that as an excuse,” freshman D.J. Carton said. “We had all the players we had. We had more than enough to win that game, we just didn't come out with the energy and the mental part of it was what really did it. We've just got come back focused and learn from this and mature from this.”
Kaleb Wesson finished with 12 points but needed 13 shots to get there. He was 4 for 13 from the floor and 1 for 4 from three, one game removed from putting up 28 against Penn State while shooting 9 for 16 from the floor and 4 for 6 from three.
He also finished with four fouls and tied a season high with six turnovers.
“He did all right,” Andre Wesson said of his brother. “He got in foul trouble. That kind of slowed him down and he couldn't really get into a rhythm. Other than that, I think he did OK. Just physicality-wise, we weren't ready.”
Added Holtmann, “I think he probably felt like it was hard for him to get easy, open looks. But he's had a great attitude and a great approach. I'm sure he'll bounce back. We've got to figure out some things we can do to put him in better position.”
With 15:14 to play in the second half, junior forward Kyle Young headed to the bench as Minnesota led 45-36 when the game resumed after the first media timeout.
He didn't return to the game until 2:38 remained, when Holtmann swapped him with Kaleb Wesson for defensive possessions. He finished with six points and five rebounds in 19:55, and I asked Holtmann afterward if Young was injured or being sent some sort of message.
Turns out, it was something Holtmann has cautioned about regarding Young even as he has enjoyed early-season success.
“I just think we were really struggling offensively and defensively with their size,” the coach said. “It wasn't anything Kyle did.”
In other words, the 6-8, 205-pound Young wasn't getting many opportunities against a bigger, physical Minnesota team. It's been an area in which Young has struggled throughout his career, and it serves as a reminder that there is still room for Young's game to grow.
By the numbers
It's been a while since Ohio State has taken a loss like this one.
The last time a top-5 Buckeyes team lost in such a decisive manner, it was a 13-point loss to Purdue on Feb. 20, 2011. In that game, the No. 11 Boilermakers beat the No. 2 Buckeyes, 76-63, matching Sunday night's 13-point margin of defeat.
The last time the Buckeyes lost a road game as a top-10 team against an unranked opponent? That was a 98-85 home loss to Penn State on Feb. 27, 1999, when the Buckeyes were ranked No. 10.
To find the last time something like this happened, you have to go back nearly 30 years. On Jan. 31, 1991, No. 3 Ohio State went to unranked Michigan State and took a 75-61 loss, marking the last time a top-5 Buckeyes team lost a road game to an unranked opponent.
No more chance…
In an exercise in harmless fun, Ohio State entered Sunday as the nation's No. 1 overall team in the KenPom.com rankings. Even further, the Buckeyes were not favored to win just one game, and that was the season finale at Michigan State.
At 9-0, the Buckeyes were actually given a 0.2 percent chance of finishing the regular season at 31-0 and a 0.5 percent chance of finishing Big Ten play at 20-0.
With the loss, Ohio State is still No. 1 nationally, but is now also expected to lose a Jan. 7 game at Maryland. Projected final: Terrapins 70, Buckeyes 69.
A pair of former Buckeyes with ties to the area were on hand and seated behind the team bench for the game.
Keita Bates-Diop, now in his second season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, was in attendance on a night when his coach, Ryan Saunders, was recognized during the first half. He's a Minnesota alumnus.
Seated next to him was former Ohio State point guard P.J. Hill, a Minneapolis native who played in 55 games including eight starts from 2008-09 and averaged 2.2 points per game.
“Really, just stay focused. We came into this game with our heads a little too high. We need to stay grounded and continue to work. I think we can't be satisfied, and I think we did that a little bit this week. We're going to get in the gym and work even harder and hopefully we can see some results on the court.” – Carton, on what he learned from this game.