Despite its January struggles and most recent loss to Wisconsin, the Ohio State men’s basketball team is still one that looks to have secured itself a spot in the NCAA Tournament barring a collapse of epic proportions to end the year. However, that does not mean Chris Holtmann and the Buckeyes can take their foot off the gas anytime soon, as there is still plenty of basketball to be played against a slew of tough opponents.
Ohio State played host to Rutgers on Wednesday night, and unlike when the two schools meet on the gridiron, the Scarlet Knights are a very respectable opponent on the hardwood. Rutgers entered the night at 17-7 on the year, with a 8-5 record in the Big Ten good for fifth place in the conference. While that is a very good mark considering how competitive the B1G has been this season, the Scarlet Knights are just 1-7 on the road, with that lone win coming against one of the Big Ten bottom dwellers in Nebraska.
All but two teams in the Big Ten have five or more conference losses this season, which is a large reason why the ultra-tough B1G will likely get 10 or more teams into the postseason tourney. Recently, Ohio State has been projected anywhere from a No. 6 to a No. 8 seed. Rutgers is currently sitting at No. 31 in the NET rankings, just outside being another potential Q1 win for the Buckeyes. Regardless, a victory over the Scarlet Knights on Wednesday would be a nice addition to the team’s resume.
After an impressive first period, Ohio State was able to avoid collapse in the second as it held on to defeat Rutgers 72-66. With a 45-30 lead at the half, the Buckeyes scored just 27 points over the final 20 minutes as the Scarlet Knights — aided by a stretch where they went 7-of-7 — nearly clawed all the way back. In the end, OSU held on to move to 16-8 on the year, and 6-7 in Big Ten play.
Kaleb Wesson led all scorers with 16 points, shooting 5-of-7 from the field including a 3-of-3 effort from downtown. His brother Andre Wesson added 13 points, while Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. each added 10 apiece. Ohio State was brilliant from the charity stripe, hitting 18-of-21 at the line as they secured another conference victory in their long climb back up the standings.
These are a few of the biggest factors and storylines in what was Ohio State’s only regular season matchup with Rutgers:
Making up for mistakes
Turnovers have been the biggest nagging issue for Ohio State all season long. In the team’s huge win over Michigan last week, it looked as though the Buckeyes had maybe solved their turnover woes, only giving it away five total times against the Wolverines. That was clearly not the case, as ball security was once again lacking when OSU turned it over 13 times in its last time out against Wisconsin.
The Buckeyes were able to take marginally better care of the rock on Wednesday, as they turned the ball over 11 times against Rutgers — seven of which came in the second half. At the other end, they capitalized on a ton of the Scarlet Knights’ mistakes, scoring a big 18 points off of Rutgers’ 12 turnovers. In the instances Ohio State did give the ball away, they made sure to lock down on defense early on. But after allowing only two points off turnovers in the first period, that number ballooned up to 17 by end of the game.
OSU did, however, do a phenomenal job of moving the ball around and finding the open man, finishing the contest with 13 assists, compared to eight for Rutgers.
A pair of nagging injuries
Ohio State is already playing without freshman point guard D.J. Carton, who has taken a leave of absence from the team to focus on his mental health. They have also been without junior guard Musa Jallow all season long, out indefinitely after having surgery on his right ankle. On Wednesday night, the BTN announcers discussed another two Buckeyes that are not quite at 100 percent.
Both Kyle Young and Luther Muhammad have been battling through injuries as of late. Young, who has already missed time this season after needing his appendix removed, is experiencing some pain in his leg. The team believes it is related to a stress fracture that forced him to miss time last year, and are closely monitoring the issue while limiting his participation in practice.
Muhammad has had injuries to both of his shoulders in the past few weeks, wearing a heavy brace on his right shoulder against Indiana and Michigan and then on his left against Wisconsin and Rutgers. The guard’s nagging shoulder injuries are likely a big reason for his shooting struggles all season long, and perhaps offseason surgery to fix whatever the problem is could be in order.
B1G’s best from three?
Ohio State entered the night with the best three-point shooting percentage in the Big Ten, leading the conference at nearly a 38 percent clip from beyond the arc. Rutgers, conversely, entered the night as the worst team in the conference from deep, hitting at just 29.5 percent from three-point land.
Those numbers certainly came into play on Wednesday night, but only on one side. The Buckeyes poured it in from range early on. The team hit a whopping seven three-pointers in the first period, led by three makes by Justin Ahrens and two each from Andre Wesson and Kaleb Wesson. They would finish with 10 on the game, hitting at exactly their season average of 38 percent.
On the other end, Rutgers was actually very good from deep. Hitting 9-of-21 from beyond the arc (43 percent), the Scarlet Knights were able to work their way back into the game late with some clutch three-pointers. Geo Baker led his team from downtown with a 3-of-6 effort.
Beating them at their own game
Heading into Wednesday night’s action, Rutgers was one of the best rebounding teams in the Big Ten. While the Scarlet Knights rank No. 2 in the conference in defensive boards per game at 28.7 — behind only Michigan State — they are equally as impressive at the offensive end, ranking No. 3 in the B1G with 12.5 offensive boards per game.
As a team that lacks size, Ohio State has not been a dominant team on the glass this season, ranking No. 8 in defensive boards and No. 10 in offensive boards, but they were able to flip the script against Rutgers.
The Buckeyes beat up the Scarlet Knights on the glass, out-rebounding them 32-28 overall. What was most impressive was OSU’s work on the offensive end, where they out-rebounded Rutgers 8-5, leading to eight second-chance points for the home team.
Protecting the castle from Knights
As previously mentioned, Rutgers has struggled on the road this season. In addition to that trend, the Scarlet Knights have also had no luck historically heading into Columbus. Heading into Wednesday’s contest, Ohio State was a perfect 4-0 against Rutgers in games played in Value City Arena, and that number has now moved to 5-0 with the victory.
Overall, the Buckeyes now lead the all-time series against the Scarlet Knights 8-3, with OSU having a 3-1 record in Piscataway and Rutgers going 2-0 in games played at a neutral site.
Ohio State’s next game will be against Purdue this Saturday, Feb. 15. The Buckeyes’ second-straight home contest is set to tipoff at 12:00 p.m. EST, and will be broadcast on Fox.