On Groundhog Day, the Ohio State Buckeyes (14-7, 4-6) avoided a nightmare repeat of their January loss to Rutgers Scarlet Knights (11-10, 4-7). The Bucks avenged their earlier defeat with a 76-62 win at the Value City Arena.
After a difficult January — in which Ohio State went 1-6 — Chris Holtmann’s squad looked quite a bit more focused and in control in the rematch against Rutgers. While Kaleb Wesson dominated the first half offensively, the Buckeyes were also strong on the defensive end, and took much better care of the ball than they were throughout the first month on 2019.
Kaleb Wesson finished the game with 27 points after being held to a combined 38 in the past five games combined. However, OSU turned in a complete game on both sides of the ball, and a number of other Buckeyes (especially C.J. Jackson) contributed offensively, especially in the second half.
Early on, the Buckeyes struggled to get into the flow offensively. Kaleb Wesson hit the first two buckets for OSU, but then the home team went on a 3:40 drought before the sophomore big man hit back-to-back three-pointers to give the Buckeyes a 10-8 lead. The younger Wesson then hit a baseline jumper, scoring Ohio State’s first 12 points on five-for-five shooting. Then, with Rutgers’ attention collapsing on him, he found Luther Muhammad for a corner three, prompting Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell to call a timeout with his team trailing 15-8.
Despite OSU being on an 11-0 run, before Muhammad’s triple, Buckeyes other than the younger Wesson were 0-7. Not a recipe for success, especially when the entire offense is built around a player who has struggled to stay out of foul trouble throughout his collegiate career. Fortunately for OSU, that wouldn’t be a problem on Saturday.
Back in the game, Shaq Carter was whistled for a Flagrant 1 hook-and-hold call as Kaleb Wesson pulled in an offensive rebound. After hitting both free-throws, Carter picked up a second quick foul as Wesson was backing him down low.
Kaleb Wesson continued his dominance on the next offensive possession with a straight-away three. It was his third make from beyond the arc in the first 10-plus minutes of the game. At that point, the sophomore was perfect on the day, six-for-six from the field, and two-for-two from the line. With an 11-point lead, 20-9, the Buckeyes had their biggest advantage of the day.
However, the Buckeyes’ reliance on Kaleb Wesson would hurt them as the first half progressed. With 6:40 remaining in the first half, they had not converted from the field on a basket that wasn’t made or assisted by the sophomore. The rest of the team continued to struggle, going 1-for-12 from the field.
Rutgers scored on six-straight trips to keep within shouting distance of the Buckeyes 29-22 with four and a half minutes remaining before halftime. At that point, OSU had 10 field goals, Kaleb Wesson was responsible for seven of them, and assisted on the other three.
Kaleb Wesson has 19 points. There are still four minutes left in the first half. pic.twitter.com/iSa0yQBzho— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) February 2, 2019
The final four minutes saw the Buckeyes maintain their lead, as C.J. Jackson and Muhammad hit three-pointers and Kaleb Wesson converted another jumper of his own. The difference in the first half for him was the fact that he didn’t commit a single foul. In addition, Kaleb Wesson had three assists and two rebounds.
He went to the locker room with 21 points — the most in a first half in his career — shooting 8-for-9 from the floor, including a perfect three-for-three from distance. However, the OSU defense was just as instrumental in building the 37-29 halftime lead. While the Scarlet Knights went 11-for-27 from the floor, they were just 2-for-8 from beyond the arc, and turned the ball over four times, which led to seven OSU points.
In fact, Ohio State did not commit a single turnover in the first half; combine that with having more buckets from downtown (7) than inside the arc (6), and Holtmann’s squad looked quite different than it had over the previous month.
As the second half began, Ohio State struggled to get Kaleb Wesson back involved in the offense, as the Rutgers D refocused on keeping him in check. However, the home team got contributions from a handful of other players, including another pair of three-pointers from Jackson and Muhammad to maintain a double-digit lead.
However, with 12:31 remaining in regulation, Andre Wesson was whistled for his fourth foul, sending him to the bench in favor of Jaedon LeDee. While Andre obviously doesn’t put up the stats that his brother does, the elder Wesson is a perfect example of “a glue guy,” who hustles on both ends and gives maximum effort at all times.
Kaleb Wesson got his first bucket after the break with 10:53 remaining in the second half. The spinner in the lane gave OSU a 53-43 advantage. However, in the first 10 minutes of the half, Jackson was the one flexing his muscles on defense. He had 10 points, including a pair from distance, two boards, and two assists.
At the 6:43 mark, Andre Wesson fouled out on a physical rebound attempt, putting further pressure on the OSU front court with Kyle Young still unavailable due to a stress fracture. After the free throws by Eugene Omoruyi, the Buckeyes held a 61-49 lead.
While the Knights were able to put pressure on the OSU defense inside, the Buckeye offense remained on point. Following a layup by Kaleb Wesson, Muhammad and Jackson played a game of hot-potato with a few quick passes that eventually resulted in another Muhammad three-pointer.
While Kaleb Wesson did not have the offensive output after halftime that he did before, he did hit a number of career-highs; thanks to only committing one personal foul, he played 38 minutes. He also picked up five assists, the most in his season and a half in Columbus. He ended the game with 27 points on 10-for-12 shooting.
Jackson also put up 20 points on the game, with 17 coming after the intermission. The guard led the Buckeyes in rebounds on the gave with seven. Other Bucks in double-digits were Muhammad with 12, and Keyshawn Woods with 11.
For the Scarlet Knights, Omoruyi led the way with 19, while Caleb McConnell turned in 14.
Aside from Kaleb Wesson’s near perfect performance, the story of the game was in the points off of turnovers battle. While the home team did cough it up six times (all in the second half) to Rutgers’ 12, the Scarlet and Gray dominated in terms of resulting points, 22-6. This helped balance RU’s 36-25 rebounding advantage.
However, because OSU shot 52.9 percent from the field — their best shooting performance in Big Ten play this season — the rebounding deficit wasn’t as harmful as it otherwise could have been.
With the victory over Rutgers, the Buckeyes have a run of four games against conference foes that have a combined 9-31 record on the season. So, after a brutal first month of the year, Holtmann’s team has the opportunity to strengthen its standing, not only in the Big Ten race, but also in pursuit of a second-straight NCAA Tournament berth.
Chris Holtmann’s basketball Buckeyes will return to action on Thursday, Feb. 7 as they will host the Penn State Nittany Lions at 7 p.m. ET in a game broadcast on ESPN2.