A win tonight could vault Ohio State into the Top 25, but first they’ll have to avoid the upset bug in East Piscataway when the Buckeyes take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Ohio State will be looking for a bit of revenge against Rutgers, who defeated the Buckeyes 66-57 in last year’s Big Ten Tournament, which happened to be the last game former Ohio State head coach Thad Matta would coach for the school. The Buckeyes own a 4-2 all-time record against the Scarlet Knights, and are 2-0 against Rutgers on the Scarlet Knights’ home court.
In Thursday night’s game against Maryland, Ohio State looked like they might be dealing with a bit of a hangover from their big win last Sunday over Michigan State, falling behind the Terrapins by seven points early on. The Buckeyes used a 22-2 run to quickly erase the deficit and build a double-digit lead of their own.
Ohio State hit seven three-pointers in the first half to open up a 44-32 halftime lead over the Terrapins. Andrew Dakich hit three of those three-pointers, while Keita Bates-Diop added two triples. The Buckeyes wouldn’t let their foot off the gas, cruising to a 91-69 win over Maryland, and staying undefeated in Big Ten play.
What has been a big reason for Ohio State winning nine of 10 games since the start of December has been the guard play of the Buckeyes. Not only has C.J. Jackson tightened up his ball security, but Kam Williams has been taking better shots. The combination of the vision of Jackson and the streakiness of Williams, along with the veteran leadership of Michigan graduate transfer Andrew Dakich off of the bench has provided Ohio State with some stability at guard, which is something they have lacked the last couple of years.
Ohio State won’t be able to take Rutgers lightly, as the Scarlet Knights just took Michigan State to overtime in East Lansing. Steve Pikiell’s team was able to erase a 12-point deficit to the Spartans, and had a chance to pull the upset but Corey Sanders couldn’t get the final shot of regulation to fall. Rutgers hung tough in overtime, but in the end, Michigan State was just too tough to overcome at the Breslin Center.
Rutgers is a team that has played to the level of their competition at home so far this year. The Scarlet Knights shocked Seton Hall in the middle of December 71-65, and followed up the big win by losing to Stony Brook and Hartford at home over the next two weeks. Last Friday, Rutgers defeated Wisconsin 64-60 at The RAC to earn their first Big Ten victory of the year. If Ohio State isn’t careful, the tough defense that the Scarlet Knights play could slow down the momentum the Buckeyes have created since the beginning of December.
Steve Pikiell is in his second year as head coach of the Scarlet Knights. The former Stony Brook head coach took over after Eddie Jordan following the 2015-16 season. Pikiell has posted a 26-25 record so far during his time with Rutgers, and has a career head coaching record of 218-180. Before beginning his coaching career, Pikiell played point guard at UConn from 1987-1991.
Numbers to know
Ohio State hit 17 three-pointers in Thursday night’s win over Maryland, setting a school record for most three-pointers in a Big Ten game and most three-pointers in a home game. The only time the Buckeyes hit more three-pointers in a game came in 2005, when they hit 18 three-pointers at LSU.
With the win over Maryland, Chris Holtmann became the sixth Big Ten coach to start their first season in conference with at least a 5-0 record. The last time a Big Ten coach started their first season with at least a 5-0 record in league play came back in 1987, when Tom Davis went 6-0 at Iowa to start conference play.
Rutgers has been a force on the glass so far this year. The Scarlet Knights are fifth nationally in rebounding, averaging 42.44 rebounds per game. Rutgers is also fifth in the country in offensive rebounding, pulling down 14.56 offensive boards per game. The Buckeyes will have to account for Deshawn Freeman and Eugene Omoruyi, who have grabbed over 40 offensive rebounds each so far this year.
Cast of characters
The senior from Pickerington had one of his best games for Ohio State on Thursday against Maryland. Not only did Tate score 13 points in the victory, but he added a career-high four blocks, and tied a career-high with six assists against the Terrapins. Currently at 1,326 career points, Tate could move up two more spots to 27th on Ohio State’s career scoring list with 13 more points, passing Jim Cleamons and Marc Loving.
The graduate transfer from Michigan had a game he’ll never forget on Thursday night. Dakich hit three three-pointers on his way to a career-high 11 points in the win over Maryland. The previous high scoring total for Dakich on the year came against The Citadel when the senior scored 10 points. The guard also dished out four assists, marking the seventh game of the year in which he has registered at least three assists.
The junior from Florida almost willed Rutgers to an upset win on Wednesday over Michigan State, scoring a team-high 22 points in the loss. Sanders is leading Rutgers with 14.2 points per game this year. Currently, Sanders is tied for 29th on Rutgers’ all-time scoring list, with 1,109 career points. With 13 points tonight, Sanders will tie Jim Valvano for 28th on the school’s all-time scoring list.
Not only is Freeman Rutgers’ second leading scorer this year with 12.0 points per game, but he is also the team’s leading rebounder, pulling down 7.6 boards per game. Freeman has grabbed at least 10 rebounds in five games this season. The senior forward has registered 16 rebounds in two games this year, with one of those performances coming in the upset win over Seton Hall.
How to watch:
Game time: 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM
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