Ohio State gave Michigan State all they could handle in Columbus on Saturday afternoon, but it wasn’t enough to hand the Spartans their first loss in over a month. The Buckeyes will have to put the sting of the loss out of their head quickly, as they have a couple of road contests awaiting them this week, first traveling to New Jersey to take on Rutgers tonight.
Ohio State faced their toughest test of the season on Saturday when they welcomed Michigan State to Value City Arena, but the Spartans had just a little too much for the Buckeyes in that contest, defeating Chris Holtmann’s team 86-77. Despite the loss, Ohio State gave fans plenty of reasons for optimism going forward, hanging with the eighth-ranked Spartans until the end of the game when some cold shooting did the Buckeyes in.
Kaleb Wesson continued his hot play, scoring 25 points and pulling down eight rebounds against Michigan State. Saturday’s effort marked the third time in five games in which the sophomore has recorded at least 20 points. Wesson fouled out with just under two minutes remaining against the Spartans, marking the first time this year where the Buckeye big man has fouled out of a game. By comparison, at this point of his freshman season at Ohio State, Wesson had already fouled out of four games.
Ohio State saw three other players hit double figures in the scoring column in the loss to Michigan State. After scoring a career-high 15 points in the win over High Point, freshman guard Luther Muhammad scored 12 points against the Spartans, reaching double digits in scoring for the third time in the last four games.
C.J. Jackson not only scored 10 points, but added five assists and four steals, which was a season-high for the senior guard. All 10 of Jackson’s points came in the first half, as he was slowed in the second half by cramps. Jackson has now scored at least 10 points in eight of the last nine games, and is just six points away from 800 points for his career.
Andre Wesson also added 10 points in the losing effort for the Buckeyes. The junior from Westerville looks to have regained his shooting touch after making just four of 16 shots during a three-game stretch in December. Wesson has hit eight of his 17 shots from the field over the past three games, scoring at least nine points in each of those three games.
Even though the result on the scoreboard didn’t go their way, Ohio State did a great job at not turning the basketball over against the Spartans. The Buckeyes finished the game with just five turnovers, marking the first time since last January’s meeting with Rutgers in which they didn’t turn the basketball over more than five times in a game. Transfer guard Keyshawn Woods has been especially careful with the basketball lately, committing just three turnovers while dishing out 18 assists over the past three games.
Since joining the Big Ten, Rutgers has had a tough time in getting the best of Ohio State. The Buckeyes have won six of seven conference meetings against the Scarlet Knights, with the only Rutgers win coming in the 2017 Big Ten Tournament. Ohio State swept both meetings with Rutgers last season, beating the Scarlet Knights 68-46 last January in Piscataway, followed by a 79-52 blowout in Columbus on Senior Night.
Rutgers comes into tonight’s battle with Ohio State looking for their first Big Ten win of the season. The Scarlet Knights got off to a rough start in 2019, heading into halftime on Saturday trailing Maryland 40-19, and eventually falling to the Terrapins 77-63. Since defeating Miami in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Rutgers has lost five of seven games, with the only wins during that span coming against Columbia and Maine.
Steve Pikiell is in his third season at Rutgers, posting a 37-43 record in his first 80 games at the school. Big Ten play has been especially unkind to the former Stony Brook coach, with Pikiell winning just six of his first 37 conference games. If anyone would know about a slow rebuild it would be Pikiell, as he went 4-24 in his first season at Stony Brook, but finished out his 11-year stint there with at least 20 wins in six of his final seven years with the school.
The Scarlet Knights are led by Eugene Omoruyi, who is averaging 15.7 points per game and eight rebounds per game. The junior forward from Ontario has scored in double figures in all but one game this year, and recorded five double-doubles. Omoruyi pulled down 17 rebounds earlier in the season against Boston University, which is the most by a Rutgers player since Adrian Hill grabbed 18 rebounds against Notre Dame in 2007.
Geo Baker is the only other Rutgers player who is averaging double figures in the scoring column this year, with the guard posting a 13.1 points per game average. The Buckeyes could be catching Baker at the right time though, as the sophomore is just 12-51 from the field over the past four games. Baker only played in last January’s matchup between these two squads, hitting four three-pointers on his way to 14 points.
A reason for optimism for Rutgers fans going forward is the Scarlet Knights have one of the youngest teams in the country. The Scarlet Knights average 1.18 years of experience per player, which ranks 312th out of 353 Division I programs. The only senior on Rutgers’ roster is graduate transfer Shaquille Doorson.
With such a young roster, the Scarlet Knights are still trying to figure out what they have in terms of talent. Aside from Omoruyi, Baker, and Doorson, the only Rutgers player to start more than 10 games this year is Peter Kiss. The sophomore guard is the only other Rutgers player besides Omoruyi and Baker to score more than 100 points so far this season.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 70.0%
This is a game which Ohio State should be able to shake off Saturday’s loss to Michigan State and get back on track before heading to Iowa on Saturday afternoon. What will be key for the Buckeyes is keeping Kaleb Wesson out of foul trouble. When the sophomore is on the court and demanding so much attention in the paint, it opens things up on the outside for C.J. Jackson, Duane Washington Jr., and the rest of the Buckeyes.
Even though Rutgers isn’t as experienced and talented as the Buckeyes at this point, what could keep this game closer than some are thinking is how the Scarlet Knights play defense. Earlier this season, Rutgers tied an NCAA record by allowing Eastern Michigan to score just four points in the first half. The Scarlet Knights are also one of the better teams in the country at rebounding the basketball, which is an area the Buckeyes have struggled with at times.
Ohio State avoids the upset attempt from Rutgers and keeps the Scarlet Knights from earning their first conference win of the year, but don’t be surprised if Ohio State comes out of the gate slow while still trying to feel the Scarlet Knights out. Chris Holtmann has been great at making adjustments after slow starts during his time at Ohio State, and the second-year Buckeye head coach works his magic again as his team puts some distance on the Scarlet Knights in the second half.