No. 23 Ohio State began the meat of its conference schedule on Wednesday afternoon with a marquee matchup against a surging No. 11 Rutgers squad. After an 0-1 start in Big Ten play, Chris Holtmann’s guys looked to bounce back with their first B1G victory of the season. Falling behind by as many as 16 points, the Buckeyes mounted a huge second-half comeback to take down Rutgers 80-68 in the team’s most impressive win of the year thus far.
After some rough shooting in the opening period, Ohio State was able to get Rutgers into foul trouble and start to dominate in the paint in the second half. The Buckeyes were led by E.J. Liddell and Duane Washington Jr., who combined for 43 of the team’s 80 points. Washington hit all four of OSU’s 3-pointers, finishing with 22 points and six rebounds, while Liddell was a monster inside, scoring 21 points with six boards and a pair of blocks. Kyle Young had his best performance of the season, finishing with 17 points to go along with a team-high 12 rebounds.
Ohio State did not come out of the gates shooting the ball well. After hitting on two of their first three attempts from the field, the Buckeyes struggled mightily to put up points through the game’s opening 10 minutes or so. At the second media timeout near the 11-minute mark, OSU had made just four of their 13 shots — a paltry 31% overall. They especially struggled from deep, with Duane Washington Jr. hitting the lone 3-pointer of the team’s first five attempts. E.J. Liddell specifically had a rough start to the game, missing his first four shots.
On the flip side, Rutgers could not miss. Jumping out to a 20-11 lead midway through the first period, the Scarlet Knights knocked down every one of their first four attempts from downtown. As a team, Rutgers hit on eight of its first 14 shots from the field — a much more efficient 57%. Steve Pikiell’s guys were sharing the rock effectively, picking up an early four assists with scoring coming from all over the floor. The confidence clearly flowing, four different Scarlet Knights each dropped five points apiece through the opening 10 minutes.
Important players on both sides found themselves in early foul trouble on Wednesday afternoon.
For Rutgers, who was already missing starting center Cliff Omoruyi with a knee injury, junior forward Myles Johnson earned a seat on the bench with three fouls near the end of the first period. With Omoruyi, one of the tallest players on the Scarlet Knights’ roster at 6-foot-11, already on the shelf, Rutgers really needed Johnson — who is also 6-foot-11 — to be on the floor as much as possible. Ohio State, who is generally undersized against most opponents they go up against, would need to capitalize in the paint without the big trees blocking the way.
For Ohio State, they too lost a key part of their rotation when Duane Washington Jr. picked up his third foul just before halftime. Washington, who is the Buckeyes’ leading scorer at 14.4 points per game, was not exactly having his best performance before being forced to take a seat, going 2-of-6 from the floor including 1-of-4 from beyond the arc with his six points in the opening period. Without the junior guard, Ohio State would have to find other sources of scoring.
A horrible, no good, very bad (shooting) half
Ohio State’s poor shooting was not only limited to the first 10 minutes of play, as the lid remained on the basket throughout the first period. The Buckeyes headed into the locker room at the break shooting just 1-of-10 from three-point land. Overall, the team shot 11-of-30 from the field through 20 minutes of action — a 37% clip that simply isn’t going to get the job done against any opponent, but especially one as offensively inclined as Rutgers.
Among Ohio State’s starters, C.J. Walker, Justice Sueing and Liddell began the afternoon a combined 3-of-12 — with Liddell owning all three makes with his team-high eight points at halftime. Kyle Young was the Buckeyes’ most efficient player in the first period, tying Liddell with eight points but on a much prettier 4-of-5 shooting — albeit exclusively on dunks and layups. Of Ohio State’s 28 first-half points, 20 of them came in the paint.
Luckily for Chris Holtmann’s team, Rutgers cooled off a bit after their hot start. The Scarlet Knights went into halftime hitting 14-of-30 from the field and 7-of-13 from downtown. Led by Ron Harper Jr.’s 10 points at the break, the Rutgers offense simply looked more crisp than Ohio State’s. The Buckeyes were getting decent looks, but the shots just would not seem to fall. All things considered, Ohio State was lucky to be trailing by only 10 points heading into the second period.
No Justice, no peace
To begin the season, it looked as though Justice Sueing may take over as Ohio State’s best player on the offensive end. He was spectacular in his Buckeyes debut after sitting out last season following his transfer from UCLA. Against Illinois State in the opener, Sueing led all scorers with 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting with eight rebounds and three steals. He was awesome with and without the ball in his hands, and it seemed like coach Holtmann may have found another key scorer to go alongside Washington and Liddell.
After averaging 15.3 points per game through Ohio State’s first four games, the redshirt junior has averaged just 9.7 points per contest in the last three times out heading into Wednesday night. His lowest outcome of the year came on Saturday against UCLA, when Sueing scored just six points. With each passing game, Sueing, for whatever reason, has had less and less of an impact on offense. This really came to a head against Rutgers, when Sueing was a total non-factor from start to finish.
Sueing finished the game against the Scarlet Knights with just two points. He went 0-of-3 from the field, including an 0-of-2 night from beyond the arc. Sueing did not contribute much elsewhere either, pulling in just two rebounds and not registering an assist. With the loss of Kaleb Wesson in the offseason and fellow transfer Seth Towns still working back from injury, Ohio State will certainly need more from Sueing moving forward if they want to see consistent success in the scoring department.
Attacking the paint
As previously mentioned, Rutgers came into the night already without their freshman center Omoruyi. Usually a massive presence inside, their issues got compounded when Johnson, who was filling in for Omoruyi, fouled out with over eight minutes to go in the second period. With very little left in terms of size the rest of the way for the Scarlet Knights, Ohio State looked to capitalize inside, attacking the boards and looking to drive the paint as much as possible down the stretch.
Especially with how bad the Buckeyes had been shooting the ball from range, getting to the rim was certainly the right decision, as guys like Liddell and Young were able to put up points with ease and quickly cut into what was once a 16-point lead for Rutgers. By the time we hit the five-minute mark, things were all tied up at 61-61. The Scarlet Knights could not contend with Ohio State underneath without their big men, and Holtmann had his guys going back to the well time and time again.
Overall, the Buckeyes scored a whopping 38 points in the paint en route to victory, out-rebounding Rutgers 45-25 including a 12-4 advantage on the offensive glass. It was a completely different game in the second half, with Ohio State basically abandoning its three-point shooting in exchange for much higher percentage looks inside. The Buckeyes outscored the Scarlet Knights 52-30 in the second period to earn their first Big Ten win of the year.