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Moments that mattered: Ohio State’s 79-68 victory over No. 15 Rutgers

The Buckeyes were back in action on Saturday, traveling to Piscataway to complete the season sweep of the Scarlet Knights.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

After getting “punked” by the Minnesota Golden Gophers last weekend, the Buckeyes were looking forward to heading home for a matchup with still-winless (in conference play) Penn State on Wednesday afternoon. But on Tuesday it was announced that due to positive COVID tests in the Nittany Lion program, that game would need to be postponed. Since their game against Ohio State was called off, Penn State has also postponed their next two games against Michigan and Rutgers.

Because of that cancellation, Ohio State stayed in Columbus to practice, with five days to prepare for their rematch with Rutgers on Saturday. The Buckeyes overcame a 16-point deficit to beat the Scarlet Knights 80-68 on Dec. 23, but the officiating in the game was cried afoul by fans and players alike.

In that matchup, the Scarlet Knights, already down a man due to Cliff Omoruyi’s knee injury, quickly fell into foul trouble with Myles Johnson and backup center Mamadou Doucoure both getting into foul trouble in the early minutes of the second half. With nobody else to defend the paint, the Buckeyes went to work, out-rebounding the Scarlet Knights 45-25 and outscoring them by 28 in the second half.

While Rutgers was without a doubt looking forward to getting revenge on the Buckeyes today, Chris Holtmann and Co. felt the heat of the Big Ten after losing their third conference game of the season last weekend. Ohio State (9-3, 3-3) fell behind early, but ended the first half on a 22-4 run, putting the No. 15 Scarlet Knights (7-4, 3-4) in a massive hole that they were unable to climb out of.

Steve Pikiell called Ohio State “The most physical team in the Big Ten” this week, and Ohio State did not want to make Pikiell a liar. The Buckeyes blocked five shots and out-rebounded Rutgers 43-29 en route to a 79-68 win. The Buckeyes recorded one more assist than Rutgers as well (14-13), despite their starting point guard missing the game. This was Ohio State’s second win of the year against Rutgers, completing the season sweep.

E.J. Liddell and Justice Sueing both had perhaps their best all-around games as Buckeyes, with Liddell finishing with 15 points, six rebounds, three blocks, and two assists. Sueing finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists.

What were the key plays that ultimately led to Ohio State’s 11-point victory over Rutgers? Here were the moments that mattered:

PG2 opens the scoring

On Friday afternoon Ohio State announced that starting point guard CJ Walker would be out indefinitely due to torn ligaments in his right hand. A team that was already thin in the backcourt and had three losses in conference play took a hit they really could not afford to take. During his media availability that same day, Chris Holtmann mentioned that Jimmy Sotos would be the guy who would most likely start in Walker’s place.

Sotos, who came into the Rutgers came averaging 1.3 points per game in just under eight minutes per contest, opened the Buckeyes’ scoring with his fourth three-pointer of the year at the 17:58 mark of the first half. It was the first bucket for either team, giving Ohio State a 3-0 lead.

Buckeyes streaking

One of the Buckeyes’ biggest problems against Minnesota was their inability to score on consecutive possessions. While they were getting defensive stops, Ohio State could not take advantage on the offensive end to cut into the Gopher lead.

Against Rutgers, Ohio State rectified that issue. From Sotos’ triple at the 17:58 mark until his second three-pointer at the 13:39 mark, the Buckeyes scored on seven straight possessions, helping them build a 16-11 lead. Kyle Young and E.J. Liddell each had two buckets apiece during Ohio State’s mini-run early in this game.

Welcome to Ohio State, Meechie Johnson!

With Walker out, the timeline for Meechie Johnson was sped up quite a bit. Yesterday, Holtmann said that Johnson “could possibly” play against Rutgers, but would not commit to it. After missing his whole senior season, Johnson is still working to catch up to his teammates. Well, Johnson made his Buckeye debut against Rutgers, checking in at the 11:34 mark of the first half. He played four minutes and did not attempt a shot.

Buckeye Bakery

After back-to-back-to-back turnovers, Chris Holtmann was forced to call a timeout at the 9:48 mark of the first half. Justice Sueing, Zed Key, and Justin Ahrens all gave the ball back to the Scarlet Knights, and Holtmann looked especially displeased with Ahrens. Ohio State’s lead had just been cut to one point. Ohio State finished the game with 11 turnovers.

Scarlet Knights punch back

After going down 18-13, Rutgers punched back, going on a 10-0 run to pull back ahead, 23-18. The Scarlet Knight run was capped off by a Caleb McConnell three-pointer where he was also fouled by Musa Jallow. McConnell finished the four-point play, and on the very next possession Ron Harper Jr. got his first bucket of the game to give RU a five-point lead. McConnell would finish the game with 12 points, and Harper Jr. chipped in 11.

Johnson picks up second foul

After accusing the refs of cheating after their loss to Ohio State on Dec. 23, Myles Johnson picked up his second foul of the game at the 6:19 mark of the first half, with the game tied 26-26. He was forced to sit the remainder of the first half. Rutgers’ big man had four points in 12 minutes during the opening frame, and finished with eight points and eight rebounds.

Rutgers in a rut

After falling behind 26-20, the Buckeyes ended the first half on a 22-4 run, blasting Rutgers and heading to the locker room up 42-30 at halftime. Everything seemed to be falling for Ohio State while Rutgers couldn’t throw a beach ball into the ocean. The Buckeyes registered five blocks in the first half as well, making it difficult for Rutgers to score down low. Liddell led Ohio State with 13 points and three blocks in the first half.

Bullies on the boards

After out-rebounding Rutgers 45-25 in their last matchup, the Buckeyes held a 22-11 advantage on the glass at halftime in the rematch. Sueing and Key each had five rebounds in the first half for Ohio State. The Bucks finished the game with a 43-29 advantage on the boards overall. Justice Sueing led Ohio State with 12 rebounds, while also scoring 10 points to register his first double-double of the season.

Washington pushes it to 20

The Buckeyes came out in the second half and did not take their foot off the gas pedal, as Washington Jr.’s three-pointer extended Ohio State’s lead to 52-32 with 15:56 to go in the game. Washington Jr. finished with 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting.

Rutgers’ final push

After trailing by as much as 22, Rutgers went on a 14-2 run late in the second half, capped off by Paul Mulcahy’s steal and dunk to cut the Ohio State lead to 67-57. The under-four media timeout saved the Buckeyes, who were beginning to unravel a bit with their lead cut by over half. Rutgers went on to cut the lead down to as few as eight points in the closing minutes, but were unable to complete the comeback.

Sotos leaves with injury

One day after losing Walker to a hand injury, Ohio State lost another guard when Sotos dove on the court to try and avoid a Paul Mulcahy steal with 3:49 left in the game. It appeared Sotos hurt his shoulder when he hit the ground, as Ohio State’s medical staff walked Sotos off the court and back to the locker room. He would not return to the game, and finished with six points and four assists in 28 minutes.

Up Next:

Ohio State (9-3, 3-3) returns home on Wednesday evening to take on Northwestern (6-4, 3-3) at the Schott. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on BTN. Northwestern beat Ohio State 71-70 on Dec. 26 in Evanston.