On Wednesday night, the Ohio State Buckeyes (15-10, 5-7) won their second consecutive game for only the second time during the Big Ten season, outlasting the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (13-12, 2-10), 70-64. It wasn’t exactly a work of art, but Kam Williams led the Buckeyes to a much-needed, gutsy win.
The game was a sloppy malaise of out of control play and missed opportunities throughout. The teams combined for 26 turnovers (OSU- 15, Rutgers 11) and 41 fouls (OSU- 19, Rutgers 22). Despite controlling the first half, the Buckeyes were never able to put enough distance between them and Rutgers to feel comfortable, and it nearly came back to bite them in the final minutes.
A pair of back-to-back threes five minutes into the game, from Marc Loving and Williams, gave Ohio State its first lead at 10-8. That proved to be the last time that Rutgers held an advantage on the scoreboard.
With 12 minutes remaining in the first half, Loving was at the bottom of a pile under the basket and received a shoe to the left eyebrow, and had to go to the locker room to receive stitches. He did not return to the game until after the under-four minute timeout.
Despite being one of the team’s best three players during the Big Ten season, OSU was able to extend its lead with Loving off of the floor. With seven minutes remaining in the half, they led 25-16 on the strength of Jae-Sean Tate and Trevor Thompson’s efforts.
Tate had gone 3-3 from the field and the free-throw line for nine points, and Thompson had picked up six points on 3-4 shooting, in addition to four rebounds.
C.J. Jackson was in the starting lineup for the second-straight game for the Buckeyes, spelling JaQuan Lyle who is still dealing with a nagging ankle injury. However, with five minutes left in the first half, after scoring two points, Jackson picked up his third foul and went to the bench. Lyle was scoreless in 12 minutes of first half action. He only played four minutes in the second half, picking up a pair of free-throws.
At the break, OSU led 33-27, as they went nearly three minutes without a field goal to close out the half. The Buckeyes held a 20-12 rebounding advantage at halftime, as both teams shot 46% from the field. Rutgers came into the game leading the Big Ten in total rebounding. Their 1,012 boards ranked eighth nationally, while Ohio State’s 914 were 77th.
The teams combined for 16 turnovers (OSU- 9, Rutgers 7) and 15 fouls (OSU- 8, Rutgers 7) in the first half.
After 20 minutes, Rutgers was led by sophomore guard Corey Sanders, who had six points. However, seven other Scarlet Knights had scored. Tate led all scorers with 11, Thompson had eight, and Williams chipped in with seven.
Just a few minutes into the second half, OSU took its biggest lead of the game on a Jackson three-pointer that pushed the score to 40-29. However, from that point, Rutgers continued to chip away, getting their deficit down to just four, 45-41, with under 13:00 minutes remaining in the half.
Down 49-43 with 11:29 left in regulation, Rutgers freshman Issa Thiam picked off a Buckeye pass, and as he raced uncontested towards the basket, Thompson immediately grabbed him, and was whistled for an intentional foul. Thiam hit both free-throws, but the Scarlet Knights were unable to convert on the ensuing possession.
However, a minute and a half later, Sanders drove to the basket in transition and was fouled by Jackson. Sanders hit the layup and completed the old-fashioned three-point play, making the score 49-48 in favor of the Buckeyes. Rutgers’ Mike Williams hit a jumper with 9:30 remaining to tie the score at 50.
After fouling Kam Williams in the act of shooting a three (Williams hit all three FTs) and committing a player control foul on the subsequent possession, Sanders fouled out with 4:49 remaining. He finished with 17 points in 27 minutes of action. Conversely, Williams finished with a career-high 23 points.
The teams continued to go back and forth in the remaining minutes. With 1:18 left in regulation, Thiam got a put-back to tie the score at 62, but on the following possession, Williams put the Buckeyes back in the lead as he was fouled while shooting a three. He completed the four-point play to put the Buckeyes up 66-62. While it was dicey until the end, OSU would not give up that lead.
The Buckeyes will return to the hardwood on Saturday in College Park, Maryland at 4:00 p.m. EST. The game will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks.
3 things we learned
1) Kam Williams came to play. While Jae’Sean Tate and Trevor Thompson have received the majority of the limited love directed at the team this year, since the calendar turned to 2017, Kam Williams has made himself into a vital cog in the sometimes puttering machine that is the Ohio State basketball team.
Averaging 10.1 points per game on the season, Williams was invaluable against Rutgers, scoring 23, tying a career-high.
Seeing occasional sparks from the likes of Williams, JaQuan Lyle, and Marc Loving is somewhat bittersweet, as it makes you wonder what could have been if they, along with Tate and Thompson, had figured out how to play their best at the same time.
2) Trevor Thompson’s free-throw shooting is a valuable weapon. In Thad Matta’s tenure as the head coach in Columbus, one of the most consistent complaints about the on-court play has been the Buckeyes’ inability to make the most out of their opportunities at the free-throw line.
Coming into the game against Rutgers on Wednesday, the 2016-2017 Buckeyes were shooting 67.9% from the line, 236th in the country. However, the Buckeye big man, Trevor Thompson has been one of the team’s most reliable forces at the stripe.
Coming into the game, he was shooting 71.9%, but against Rutgers, he was 5-6, the most makes for any Buckeye on the game. While five made free-throws is likely not going to swing the balance of many games, Thompson is undoubtedly the team’s only true inside presence on either end of the floor.
The fact that the seven-footer is not a liability late in games allows him and Matta the ability to utilize all of the team’s limited weapons in close games.
3) The season is not completely lost. Yes, I admit, barring an inconceivable Big Ten Tournament run, OSU has nearly zero chance of making the NCAA Tournament, a substantial disappointment for a team that has gotten used to being in the Big Dance annually.
However, with their 15th win of the season (albeit a rather ugly one), some of the team’s other goals are still within reach. With six regular season games remaining, in addition to the B1G Tournament, and a potential NIT (or CBI) berth, the Buckeyes have at least eight games left on the schedule, with more possible based on post-season wins. If Ohio State can pick up five more W’s, that would insure the 17th 20-win season in head coach Thad Matta’s 17-year coaching career.
While that doesn’t come anywhere close to comparing to a Big Ten Title, or a Final Four run, at least it is something substantive to give the Buckeyes to play towards in an otherwise lost season.