MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota men's basketball team got E.J. Stephens back from COVID-19 protocols and Jamison Battle back from illness Thursday night, but the Gophers sorely missed Eric Curry in a 75-64 loss to No. 16-ranked Ohio State in front of more than 10,000 fans at Williams Arena.
The Gophers fall to 11-6 on the season, 2-6 in Big Ten play and are just 1-4 at home in conference play after going 5-0 in the non-conference. Ohio State took advantage of Minnesota’s lack of depth in the front-court with Curry still out nursing a left ankle injury. The Buckeyes out-rebounded the Gophers 48-22, including 20-6 on the offensive glass and had a 27-6 edge in second chance points. They also out-scored Minnesota in the paint 40-26.
"It didn’t matter what lineup we had in there, just could not find a way to get the ball. They did a much better job than us of just being physical and going and getting the ball. Against a really good team, you can’t lack that physicality," Gophers coach Ben Johnson said after the loss.
E.J. Liddell, one of the top forwards in the Big Ten, dominated the Gophers with 23 points, 15 rebounds and four assists, shooting 9-of-14 from the field and 2-of-3 from the perimeter. Kyle Young added 14 points, four rebounds and four, and Zed Key had 12 points and nine rebounds.
Liddell, Young, Key and Malaki Branham combined for 17 of Ohio State’s 20 offensive rebounds. With Curry out and Charlie Daniels in foul trouble, Treyton Thompson had difficulty matching the Buckeyes’ physicality inside.
"E.J. and Kyle Young and Malaki, those guys are some beasts. There’s a reason why they’re the 16th team in the country. That’s a well-coached team, they’re kind of what this league is all about," Johnson said. "You can’t have those lapses, especially glaring ones like getting crushed on the glass because they make you pay."
Battle, returning from a non COVID-19 illness, scored 15 points to lead the Gophers, but shot just 5-of-18 from the field and 3-of-10 from the perimeter. He had 12 of his 15 in the second half after missing his first five shots from the field.
Battle was considered a game-time decision, but went through a full pregame routine and played all 40 minutes.
"I think fatigue was a factor but I don’t think that’s an excuse for how I played. I feel like there’s still a lot more that I could’ve done regardless of being fatigued," Battle said. "You’ve got to go out there and bring energy, and I felt like I was lacking in that today."
Luke Loewe added 11 points, while Sean Sutherlin and Payton Willis had 12 each as Minnesota had four scorers in double figures.
The Gophers hung with the Buckeyes in the first half and trailed 32-30 at the break. But Ohio State started the second half on a 12-7 run and scored 43 points in the second half to pull away.
The Gophers tried to combat their lack of size on the perimeter, but shot just 8-of-24 from three-point range in the loss. They went to a zone on defense to try and limit Liddell and Key, but couldn’t finish defensive stops with rebounds.
"I told them before the game this was probably going to be the most physical team we had played to date. They’ve always been like that. You can say it all you want, but you’ve got to experience it," Johnson said.
It doesn’t get any easier for Minnesota, which travels to Wisconsin on Sunday. The Badgers are one of the top teams in the Big Ten, at 16-3 overall and 7-2 in league play after beating Nebraska Thursday night.