Washington D.C. - Our prayers were answered! In a game that was an opportunity for Rutgers to make a major statement to the rest of the Big Ten, they delivered. After falling into a quick 6-0 hole that ballooned to a 15-5 deficit, this team showed real mettle and gave Ohio State a battle they never saw coming. In fact, it was fair for every Rutgers fan to shake their head after the poor start. However, this team proved how different they are from recent years and came through with a gutty, bare knuckle effort, that resulted in a hard fought 66-57 upset win over Ohio State.
It was a true team effort and Rutgers simply wanted it more than the Buckeyes. They outworked them the rest of the game after the slow start and they got key contributions from their bench. To see their passion and togetherness was truly special after the apathy and devisiveness displayed last season. They broke the will of Ohio State and it was a sight to see. In the end, it came back to what started their resurgence this season, defense and rebounding.
They held a stunning +16 rebounding margin and +12 on the offensive glass. Rutgers was crashing the boards at every turn and were relentless throughout the game. It was like watching the underdog fighter continue to take punches from the bigger boxer, but they kept coming and the Buckeyes broke down in the second half.
Despite trailing 32-29 at the break, there was reason to be optimistic. Rutgers shot just 34% from the field, while the Buckeyes made 54%. Corey Sanders was held scoreless. However, he came out of the locker room at the half and made a point to get his team going, as he immediately made a three-pointer at the top of the key. Rutgers built a 6 point lead just 3 minutes into the second half, behind a 10-1 run from the unlikeliest of places, perimeter shooting. Issa Thiam, who had his best game in weeks, made his second three, while Mike Williams hit a long two.
Of course, we knew that wouldn’t last, as Rutgers went cold, missing six shots in a row and Marc Loving tying the game on a three-pointer with less than 14 minutes to play. However, the focus of the Scarlet Knights was apparent, as 41% free throw shooter on the season, Candido Sa, calmly made both to give them back the lead. Contributions from Sa, Jonathan Laurent, Issa Thiam, Eugene Omoruyi, and Shaq Doorson were absolutely huge in this game.
In the end, this game was won on the defensive end, as Rutgers clamped down when they needed to most, holding Ohio State without a field goal in the final five plus minutes of the game. After trailing 48-47 with just over eight minutes left in the game, Rutgers finished the game on a 19-9 run.
Nigel Johnson was the hero on offense, scoring a game high 21 points, including a stellar 8 of 8 performance from the free throw line. He was also 3 of 6 from three-point range. After getting benched with about 14 minutes left in the Illinois game, never to see the court again, he responded like a winner tonight. To do so within miles of where he grew up in his return to Washington D.C., makes it even sweeter.
Rutgers really making a game of this in the first half. pic.twitter.com/u79zah4nHj— Big Ten Geek (@bigtengeek) March 9, 2017
Deshawn Freeman put up a workmanlike 10 points and 8 rebounds, while CJ Gettys scored 6 points and grabbed 9 boards. Mike Williams, who struggled from behind the arc with an 0-5 night, also pulled down 9 rebounds and gave relentless effort throughout this game. Issa Thiam and Jonathan Laurent combined for 15 huge points. Overall, the bench outscored the Buckeyes 32-8. With Corey Sanders having an off night, scoring just 6 points on 2 of 10 shooting, the rest of the team picked him up.
For postgame reaction from coach Pikiell and the players, click here. What a win and RU rah rah!