MINNEAPOLIS — For about 20 feet, it seemed just like old habit for D.J. Carton.
Playing in his first Big Ten road game Sunday night, the freshman had just come off the bench and swished a three-pointer to give Ohio State a 12-11 lead over Minnesota. One possession later, after classmate E.J. Liddell had nabbed an attempted post feed for a steal, Carton spied a slice of an opening and attacked the paint from the wing, as he had so many times before.
This time, though, he got to the rim and found the likes of 6-foot-10 Golden Gophers center Daniel Oturu and 6-7 forward Jarvis Omersa waiting. And when their size made him hesitate or pick up his dribble, 6-5 freshman guard Tre' Williams was there to steal the ball back.
So it went for Carton, who shook free when the game opened up in the second half but otherwise came away with the latest lesson of how differently the game is played in the Big Ten. He had a career-high 19 points, a statistic tempered as he also set a career high with five turnovers.
“I just think that's a learning process for him,” coach Chris Holtmann said after the 84-71 loss. “He was getting deep and putting himself into some difficult situations and made some plays, but he's a freshman. He's learning how to play and learning from things like this.”
The same goes for Liddell, who typically subs into the game alongside Carton. Against the Gophers, Liddell was perhaps the biggest bright spot, finishing with 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting, with five rebounds, two steals and two blocks in 19 1/2 minutes of playing time.
Tuesday night's opponent, Southeast Missouri State, won't present the same type of challenge, but the second half against Minnesota saw Carton get untracked in a way he hadn't. With Ohio State trailing by at least three possessions for the final 20 minutes, Carton had 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting and drew three fouls as the game opened up a little bit.
“I was bringing defenders into the paint, and I was able to kick it out and make plays,” he said. “I stayed aggressive and stayed confident in myself, and I think I'm going to have to do that from now on a little bit more and help this team out. I think we all did a pretty good job of that in the second half, but we need to make it more like that throughout the game.”
Those are the types of lessons that sometimes can only be learned through defeat. Holtmann has been consistent in his belief that the true nature of this season's team won't be fully known until it hits some adversity and is forced to respond.
Sunday marked the first taste of that for the entire roster, not just the freshmen. But it also gave a glimpse into how Carton and Liddell could react the next time.
“You hope that's something we get out of this is those guys gaining experience on the road in an environment like this,” Holtmann said. “That's really important for our overall growth, for sure.”