The game got off to a rather slow start for both teams. Ohio State scored all six of their points before the under-16 timeout in the paint, with Rutgers having four. Neither team showed particularly good energy early on in the game, both offenses were stagnant, but the Buckeyes defensive rotations were good early on in defending shots.
After Rutgers tied the game at six apiece, the Buckeyes were able to put together a run. A pair of Keita Bates-Diop layups, and a Jae'Sean Tate three and a free throw put the Buckeyes up 14-6 at the under-12 timeout. The Buckeyes began to play with some more life, and the already quiet crowd in Piscataway became silent.
The Buckeye onslaught would continue, with a pair of threes from Keita Bates-Diop, who totaled 10 points in the front end of the first half. A Trevor Thompson bucket made it a 22-6 game, before Mike Williams knocked down a 3 for Rutgers, who went on a scoring drought that lasted nearly seven minutes. The Scarlet Knights would go into the under-8 timeout down 22-11 after a quick 5-0 run.
Rutgers was able to extend that run to 13-0, putting together quick baskets, and taking advantage of a suddenly cold-shooting Ohio State team that missed nine consecutive shots from the field. The Buckeyes attitude changed completely, with guys yelling at each other while the Scarlet Knights clawed their way back.
Keita Bates-Diop would end the Rutgers run with a basket near the block, and Jae'Sean Tate helped further extend the lost lead after a nice basket down the lane assisted by JaQuan Lyle. The Buckeyes would take that momentum, and stretch it out into a 13-2 run that included a pair of great defensive plays by Keita Bates-Diop and Kam Williams, that turned into wide open dunks. Rutgers was able to get a quick five points to make it a 35-26 game at halftime.
For the first few minutes of the second half, the two teams would trade baskets. Kam Williams was able to find his stroke with a pair of threes in the first six minutes of the half, bringing his point total to 13, and putting the Buckeyes up 50-36. After a pair of baskets by D.J. Foreman and Bishop Daniels, Corey Sanders scored five straight points for the Scarlet Knights, giving them momentum down 52-45. Kam Williams would silence them quickly with a three pointer, giving him 16 points.
As much as Ohio State tried, they just couldn't pull away. But on the other side, just as much as Rutgers tried, they couldn't totally close the gap on the Buckeyes. The teams continued to trade baskets, with the Buckeye lead continually fluctuating between seven and 10 points. After a pair of free throws from Mike Williams, Kam Williams answered with a three, bringing that Buckeye lead back up to 67-57 with under six minutes remaining.
A Rutgers answer on the other end was quickly met with a Keita Bates-Diop three, giving him 23 on the game, his third three-pointer of the afternoon. He would also set a career-high for rebounds at 13 with just over three minutes to go in the second half, which led to another Buckeye basket. It was Ohio State from there.
Bates-Diop finished with 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field, and had a career-high 14 rebounds. Kam Williams had 19 points, and shot 5-of-8 from deep off the bench. Jae'Sean Tate had 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting, in what ended up being a good offensive performance for the Bucks.
3 things we learned:
1. Slow starts are inevitable. We have seen it in almost every single game this season, Ohio State just can't get off to a good start. Some of the starts are slower than others, and it seems on the surface that this one wasn't quite as bad, but when you consider the opponent, it was. Coming out of the gate strong would have been a great morale booster early for a team that seemingly is an emotional rollercoaster.
Rutgers is not a great team by any means, and in hopes of finishing off the season strong, you'd like to see them be able to just step on the gas. It just hasn't happened all season. The Buckeyes are coming down a tough stretch of their season, and will absolutely have to do better moving forward if they want to keep their already slim NCAA hopes alive. Because right now, your best bet might be the NIT.
2. Having somebody catch fire on offense is almost necessary. Offense is certainly not a strong aspect of the game for the Buckeyes. Through periods of this game, and most other games for the Buckeyes during this season, the offense has been stagnant. Players have been getting frustrated easily, and it just creates the perfect storm for an extreme lack of offense at times. We've seen Marc Loving, JaQuan Lyle, and Kam Williams carry the team when it appeared that the Buckeyes couldn't buy a basket. Today, it was Keita Bates-Diop who saved the Buckeyes early.
Having that in one player would be much more ideal. The Buckeyes relying on a different style of hero ball isn't the best recipe, but it's kept them in plenty of games this season. Bates-Diop was the catalyst for the two biggest Buckeye runs of the game, and that Buckeye emotional rollercoaster was at its peak, when the Buckeyes were able to stretch a lead to 22-6 early in the game. Kam Williams and Jae'Sean Tate played a big part in the second half, after coming on strong to end the first half. To see the bursts from Tate and Williams in the second half was fun. To see it more would be ideal.
3. Defensive consistency is important. Rutgers had their share of runs Saturday afternoon, but those mostly came as the Buckeyes were missing shots on the offensive end of the floor. For the majority of the game, the Buckeyes had good on-ball defense and contested most shots. They out-rebounded the Scarlet Knights for the majority of the game, and kept their three-point percentage low. The Buckeyes typically do well when their defense is on. When it's off, things can get ugly quick for them. The defense was on when things would get close during the game, but when the Buckeyes appeared to be breaking away, it loosened up a bit.
The Scarlet Knights shot much better early in the second half, and kept the Bucks from pulling away for good. A great part of the defense this afternoon was how it created some very simple shots in transition for the Buckeyes when they really needed them. The crowd in Piscataway wasn't big, and it was quiet. But when the Buckeyes were able to force turnovers and create runs from them, it was dead silent. This young team feeds off of that greatly, and a consistent output of their better defense will be a must moving forward.