Ohio State used a strong first half to put some distance between themselves and Rutgers pretty early, and cruised to a win over the Scarlet Knights in the first Big Ten meeting between the two schools. The Buckeyes used another outstanding performance from D'Angelo Russell to open up a 18-point lead after the first 20 minutes of action in Piscataway. Russell scored 17 points for the Buckeyes in the first half, and also chipped in seven assists and six rebounds.
With the score 11-10 early in the first half, the Buckeyes started to find their rhythm from the floor, opening up as much as a 21-point lead in the first half. While the Buckeyes were cooking from the field, the Scarlet Knights really struggled shooting on their home floor. In the first half, Rutgers was only able to go 11-37 from the field, and missed all 10 three-pointers they attempted over the first 20 minutes. The leading scorer for Rutgers in the first half was guard Bishop Daniels, who scored eight points despite being saddled with some early foul trouble.
The Buckeyes came out for the second half and continued the strong play that they finished the first half with. The biggest star early in the half was Jae'Sean Tate, who doubled his point total for the game by the 12-minute mark. While D'Angelo Russell took on more of a scoring role in the first half, in the second half he did most of his damage as a distributor, which a number of his passes helping Tate pad his point total.
For most of the second half Rutgers wasn't able to make much of a dent into the Ohio State lead, with the edge for the Buckeyes hovering around 20 points. But near the midway part of the half the Scarlet Knights were able to show some signs of life, cutting the lead to 69-57 with about six minutes to go. After missing all of their triples in the first half, Rutgers was able to start getting some of their three-pointers to fall.
Rutgers fans were starting to make a little noise but were quieted some by D'Angelo Russell finding Tate for a layup on which he was fouled on. Tate missed the free throw but a back-tap by Sam Thompson on the rebound to Shannon Scott allowed Ohio State to run some more clock before Russell hit another basket to restore the Ohio State lead to 16 points with just over five minutes to go. The highlight of the day for Russell came when he was credited with his 10th rebound of the game, which gave him the fourth triple-double in Ohio State history.
3 things we learned
1) The Marc Loving suspension could benefit Ohio State down the road. While this is contingent on Loving returning in the near future, but the extra time Keita Bates-Diop saw today could help the freshman gain some confidence and become a solid contributor off the bench going forward for the Buckeyes. Coming into today's game, Bates-Diop had scored a combined 10 points in Big Ten play. Behind a trio of three-pointers in the first half, Bates-Diop equaled that total in the first half. Not only did Bates-Diop light it up from beyond the arc, he was also strong on the boards, pulling down five rebounds in the first half.
Bates-Diop hadn't played more than five minutes in a game since the January 10th loss at Indiana, where he was on the floor for 15 minutes. In two of Ohio State's conference games so far this year he didn't even enter the game. If Bates-Diop impresses enough with his performance today some more minutes on the floor might be warranted, which could give the Buckeyes another option they could desperately need as the calendar turns to March.
2) After falling to Purdue on Wednesday, this was a tricky game Ohio State desperately needed to win. You don't have to tell Wisconsin the strange things that can happen at The RAC. The Badgers went into Piscataway last month and dropped a 67-62 decision to the Scarlet Knights. Ohio State couldn't afford the same fate as they are playing the second of four road games in a five-game span. Now the Buckeyes will play Penn State on Wednesday night in Columbus before hitting the road again to take on Michigan State and Michigan.
With the upcoming road schedule, the Buckeyes couldn't afford to go back to Columbus to play a winnable game against Penn State on a two-game losing streak. The win today also gives Ohio State confidence that they can find other players to step up and pick up the slack for Marc Loving while the sophomore is out for an undetermined amount of time due to suspension. The win kept the Buckeyes in a four-way tie for second place in the Big Ten, and allowed them to not fall behind in the chase for one of the double-byes in the Big Ten Tournament.
3) If anybody tells you they have the words to describe what D'Angelo Russell means to Ohio State, they are lying. What more can you say about the freshman from Louisville? It only took Russell a little more than 25 minutes of gametime to record his fourth double-double of the year. Russell wasn't done either, as with about five minutes to go in the game he recorded his 10th rebound, which gave him the first triple-double of his college career. In the first half Russell was the leading scorer in the game with 17 points, and while the scoring slowed a little for Russell in the second half he was able to start getting his teammates involved more, with Jae'Sean Tate benefitting the most.
While Russell may just only be a freshman, he is playing well behind his years, and is showing just why he is expected to be on of the top picks in the NBA Draft in June. The scary thing is it feels like Russell is getting better with each game. With Shannon Scott struggling on Wednesday at Purdue, as well as being a non-factor in the first half, the Buckeyes desperately needed Russell to take over, especially with Marc Loving missing his second straight game. Russell showed he was up to the task and then some. With the growth of some of the bench players, and if Loving can return to the lineup soon, the Buckeyes could get on a run to head into March Madness with some confidence. If that happens, who knows where Russell can take this team.