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Ohio State men’s basketball vs. Rutgers: Game preview, prediction

Ohio State is eager to put January behind them after losing six of seven games last month. The Buckeyes will look to start February off by avenging last month’s 64-61 loss to Rutgers.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Things continue to trend in the wrong direction for Ohio State (13-7, 3-6). The Buckeyes have lost six of seven games in 2019, but they are approaching a stretch of winnable games that could inject some life back into the basketball program. First up for Ohio State as the calendar turns to February is Rutgers (11-9, 4-6), who has played inspired basketball lately, winning their last three games.

Preview

After two games on the road, Ohio State returns home today to take on an improving Rutgers squad at Value City Arena. The Buckeyes have lost six of their last seven games, but they’ll look to make up some ground in the Big Ten standings with three of their next four games coming at home.

Ohio State beat Nebraska last Saturday to halt a five-game losing streak, but the Buckeyes couldn’t build off the win over the Cornhuskers, falling to Michigan 65-49 on Tuesday night in Ann Arbor. Not only was Ohio State held to less than 50 points on the scoreboard for the first time in a game since March 2015 against Wisconsin, but it was the first time in 70 years that Michigan held the Buckeyes to less than 50 points in a game.

The Buckeyes held the lead against Michigan for the majority of the first half, but a run by the Wolverines at the end of the half gave the home team a 32-26 lead at the break. Michigan would continue to pull away throughout the second half as the Buckeyes unraveled. Kaleb Wesson finished with a team-high 12 points, but was called for a technical foul with just over eight minutes to go. The sophomore eventually fouled out for the third time in the last seven games. C.J. Jackson was the only other Buckeye to reach double-figures, finishing with 11 points.

Aside from Kaleb Wesson and C.J. Jackson, Ohio State is struggling to find consistent production in the scoring column. Luther Muhammad and Andre Wesson have each scored at least 20 points in a game over the past two weeks, but they haven’t been able to build off those performances. After scoring a career-high 24 points in the win against Nebraska, Muhammad score just three points in the loss to Michigan, while Wesson scored a combined 18 points over the past two games after registering 22 points against Purdue.

If Ohio State is going to assert themselves back in the race for an NCAA Tournament bid, they’ll need better performances from Muhammad and Andre Wesson, while also getting some more production from their bench. Duane Washington Jr. is in a shooting slump in 2019, hitting just seven of his last 29 three-pointers. Keyshawn Woods also has to better than he was on Tuesday night, when he hit just one field goal and turned the basketball over four times in the loss to the Wolverines.

Today’s game marks the second meeting with Rutgers this season. Last month, Ohio State suffered their first regular season loss to Rutgers since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten. The Buckeyes rallied from double-digit deficits in both the first half and second half against Rutgers, but Ohio State faltered late, failing to score a point over the final 2:37 after taking a 61-58 lead. Kaleb Wesson scored a team-high 18 points in the loss, including Ohio State’s first 10 points of the second half. New Jersey native Luther Muhammad added 13 points and six rebounds in his first game back in the Garden State.

Rutgers comes into this afternoon’s contest playing their best basketball in years, having won three straight games. The last time the Scarlet Knights won three straight conference games came back in the 2003-04 season, when Rutgers was still a member of the Big East. After beating Penn State in State College last weekend, if Rutgers beats Ohio State today it will mark the first time the Scarlet Knights have won two straight conference road games since the 1999-00 season.

The latest of those three straight wins for Rutgers came on Wednesday night, when the Scarlet Knights beat Indiana 66-58. Rutgers fell behind the Hoosiers by 10 points with four minutes to go in the first half, but used a 22-0 run that spanned halftime to take the lead for good. Geo Baker led Rutgers with 16 points, while Eugene Omoruyi registered his sixth double-double of the season, finishing with 14 points and 10 rebounds. The Scarlet Knights continued their dominance of opponents on the boards, outrebounding the Hoosiers 45-34.

In their last meeting with Ohio State, Rutgers looked like they suffered a big blow early on when Eugene Omoruyi was forced to leave the game after seven minutes due to a leg injury. A number of Rutgers players stepped up in the absence of Omoruyi against the Buckeyes. Montez Mathis finished the game with a team-high 16 points, while Shaq Carter added 11 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes off the bench.

Prediction

ESPN BPI: Ohio State 86.9%

This game is shaping up to look a lot like last month’s contest, even though there will be a few differences in personnel. Ohio State will be missing for the fourth straight game, while Eugene Omoruyi has played the last three games for Rutgers after exiting last month’s game against Ohio State after seven minutes.

Both teams come into this game with a ton of pressure on them as they head in opposite directions. Rutgers has won three straight conference games, which is something they haven’t done in over 15 years, while Ohio State has lost six of seven games. The Buckeyes can see their NCAA Tournament hopes slipping away, and a second loss to Rutgers this season might be the final nail in the coffin for Ohio State.

The Buckeyes need Kaleb Wesson to be physical against the tough Rutgers defense that will be thrown at him, but he’ll also have to be smart, especially with how quick a whistle referees have when it comes to Wesson. If Wesson has to spend an extended amount of time on the bench because of foul trouble, it could be a tough afternoon for Ohio State, especially with the lack of depth they have had to deal with lately.

In a game that feels like a toss-up, Ohio State gets the edge because they are at home. Rutgers will give Ohio State all they can handle this afternoon, but the Scarlet Knights are still a very young team. What Rutgers has accomplished so far this year is more than many were expecting from Steve Pikiell’s team, but the Buckeyes will get back on the winning track with a close victory.

LGHL Final Score Prediction: 66-62 Ohio State