This was tale of two halves, as Rutgers turned in the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde performance. Without a doubt, Rutgers played the best half of their Big Ten season tonight on the road against Ohio State. Playing their third game in a row with just seven scholarship players, they responded at the start in a big way after losing to Nebraska at home by 34 points. Corey Sanders set the tone, coming out firing and hitting his first three shots, all three-pointers, including a four point play after getting fouled, to give Rutgers a 14-11 lead six minutes into the game. Sanders finished with 17 first half points on 6-8 from the field, including 4-6 from deep. They led by as much as 8 points at 37-29, when A.J. Harris hit a three with 1:50 left in the half. That make by Harris turned out to be the beginning of the end for Rutgers.
Some real passion from @RutgersMBB in the first half at Ohio State! Corey Sanders - on fire ... 4 for 6 from downtown!— Bruce Beck (@BruceBeck4NY) January 14, 2016
Ohio State finished the first half on a 10-4 run and Rutgers had a terrible start to the second half, allowing an 8-0 run before Eddie called a timeout with 17:50 left, down 47-41. Sanders tried to replicate his hot start but missed two long jumpers. Following the timeout, Rutgers struggled with the ball, failing to take a shot before suffering a 30 second shot clock violation. Ohio State eventually built a 13-0 run to start the second half, before Bishop Daniels had a nice drive and finish to cut the Buckeyes lead to 52-43 a the first TV timeout.
After spreading the floor and and making the extra pass most of the first half, Rutgers reverted back to their usual forced offense in the second half. After playing smart and together before the half, leading to inspiring play, they settled for contested, long range, low percentage jump shots. The defense parted like the Red Sea and Ohio State had their way in the paint. The second half was not much different than the Nebraska game, with Ohio State outscoring Rutgers 55-27.
Yes, Rutgers was shorthanded again tonight, but getting dominated immediately after the break had nothing to do with fatigue. It had to do with Ohio State coach Thad Matta making halftime adjustments and Rutgers not playing smart on offense. Rutgers gave a better effort during the second half rout then they did against Nebraska, but it became a track meet and a virtual dunk contest for the home team. Patience and working for quality shots on offense became non-existent.
Ohio State point guard Jaquan Lyle led the Buckeyes, registering a triple-double with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, in what was an all-around stellar performance. All five starters for OSU scored in double figures, as did sixth man Kam Williams. After Rutgers held a 21-14 rebounding edge at the break, the Buckeyes dominated the boards the rest of the way, having a plus 16 second half margin, leading to a 45-36 edge for the game. Ohio State shot 49.3% from the field while Rutgers shot just 38.6% for the game, including a brutal 8-27 (30%) in the second half.
Corey Sanders could never recapture his magic of the first half, notching just one basket and 3 points in the second half. He led all scorers in the game, finishing with 20 points on 7-14 from the field and 4-8 from three. The disappointing part of his game was his reluctance to attack the paint, settling for too many contested jump shots. For what Eddie Jordan calls a "pass first" point guard, Sanders had his third game in a row with just 2 assists while averaging 3 turnovers during that stretch. While he played possibly the best half of his young career tonight, the second half was back to his recent disappointing play of the previous three games. Inconsistent play is to be expected for the freshman, but he can't forget the importance of creating open shots for his teammates.
Omari Grier had a solid but quiet 14 points, including an impressive 8-8 from the free throw line. D.J. Foreman, coming off the bench for the first time all season, responded with his best game of the season. He scored a season high 13 points on 5-10 from the field, as well as 9 rebounds and 2 steals. Bishop Daniels continued forcing jumpers at times, but played a solid game overall. He finished with 12 points on 5-13 from the field and 7 rebounds. Perhaps most impressive for him, he dished out 4 assists and had just 1 turnover.
Mike Williams had a terrible night, after scoring 22 points against Nebraska, following it up with a 2-13 shooting performance from the field. Williams had several open looks from three-point range, but he couldn't knock them down, finishing a dreadful 1-8 from long range. His struggles on offense continue to weigh down this team. Justin Goode gave a gutty performance, covering much taller players all game, never backing down. He pulled down 6 rebounds, but again did not assert his authority on offense, failing to register a shot from the field.
Things are not likely to get better anytime soon. Rutgers heads home for a four day break before a very difficult homestand next week, hosting Purdue and Iowa. Hopefully, Jonathan Laurent will be back after missing the past three games from a mild concussion. There is still no word on the availability of Deshawn Freeman, Shaq Doorson, and Ibrahima Diallo, but their return should not be considered imminent. The positive tonight was the first half effort and performance was a season best. The negative was the team quickly reverted to their bad habits in the second half, leading to another rout. The conference losing streak is now 20 games.