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Rutgers Upsets #16 Ohio State 64-61

Geo Baker and Montez Mathis led the way to a stunning victory

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

In what was a statement victory, the Rutgers men’s basketball team grew up on Wednesday night. After a disappointing performance in a 14 point home loss to Maryland on Saturday, this team came out and played very hard from the opening tip to the last whistle. However, it was their willingness to attack the rim like they hadn’t all season and relentless defense that won the game. On a night that captain and leading scorer Eugene Omoruyi left the game early on with an injury, there were plenty of heroic performances in the stunning 64-61 victory.

First Half Summary

It was clear from the start that Rutgers came to play and exhibited an intensity on the defensive end that was lacking in the loss to Maryland. They weren’t allowing Ohio State any easy looks at the basket and despite getting the same treatment on the other end of the floor, Rutgers was focused on attacking the rim. It helped get Buckeye big man Kaleb Wesson on the bench early, as he picked up two fouls on the same Rutgers possession just three minutes into the game.

Defensively, head coach Steve Pikiell utilized multiple looks, including a three-quarter court press mixed in with some 2-3 zone at times as well. It helped keep Ohio State off balance for much of the first half.

The game shifted when Eugene Omoruyi went down writhing in pain on the court after an apparent left leg injury. Rutgers led 8-7 at the time and he amazingly walked off the court on his own power. He did not return the rest of the game and hopefully it is nothing serious. I’ll add an update if one is provided in the postgame.

Omoruyi exhibiting his toughness by walking off the court seemed to fire up his teammates, who were visibly distraught when he went down. Rutgers immediately went on a 8-0 run. It was highlighted by two three-pointers by Geo Baker, who desperately needed one to fall. The first was well behind the arc and the second was a step back, contested three.

Soon after an Ohio State bucket ended the run, Baker hit another jumper just inside the arc. A Luther Muhammad three cut the lead to 18-12, but Rutgers wasn’t phased even as the lead was cut to four. After an alley-oop dunk by Kyle Young after getting behind the Rutgers zone, the score was 21-17. After Baker made another jumper, Ron Harper Jr. made a gutty three-point play the hard way. He then found Mathis on the break, who slammed it home to cap a 7-0 run and force a Buckeye timeout leading 28-17 with 6:02 left in the opening frame. The RAC was officially rocking and Rutgers was a surprising 7 of 8 from the free throw line at this point

After leading 31-19, Rutgers ended the half on a brutal 0 for 7 from the field, as the Buckeyes went on a 11-1 run in the final 4:40 before the break. It was an unfortunate end to an otherwise superb half from Rutgers. They forced 9 Ohio State turnovers and were -1 on the boards, while making 3 of 8 shots from three. It was anyone’s game at the break.

Second Half Summary

Rutgers came out of the break with a lineup of Baker, Mathis, Harper Jr, Carter and Doorson. Everyone was contributing and it started with Baker findjng Doorson down low for an alley-oop.

Mathis followed by hitting a three-pointer at the top of the key and Shaq Carter made both free throw attempts, as Rutgers led 38-35 almost four minutes into the second half.The issue was that Kaleb Wesson, who had just two points in 10 minutes in the first half while being saddled in foul trouble, was dominating in the early going of the second half. He scored 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting to give Ohio State a 40-38 lead.

Then Montez Mathis took over. He made a long jumper with his toe on the three-point line, made a beautiful pass to a cutting Carter for the assist and then made a layup in traffic off a Myles Johnson steal in transition to give Rutgers a 44-40 lead. Offensively, they kept attacking and after a Carter basket, Caleb McConnell scored his first bucket on a jumper to cap a 10-0 run and force a Buckeyes timeout with 11:28 left in the game. Rutgers led 48-40 and was playing its best on the offensive end they had all season. OSU also hadn’t scored in over four minutes.

The Buckeyes came out and started a mini 5-2 run before Geo Baker made a behind the back pass at the top of the key to Harper Jr., who drained a huge three-pointer to push the lead back to 8 points. On the next possession, Carter lost it on a drive but Myles Johnson grabbed it and made a bucket with a soft touch in traffic as Rutgers was on an extended 17-5 run. However, Ohio State cut the lead to 56-51 with just over six minutes to play.

The Scarlet Knights continued to get inside after three consecutive offensive rebounds, Harper Jr. got fouled and made one of two from the line. At this point, McConnell, Mathis and Harper Jr. were all on the court with Carter and Doorson. Keyshawn Woods hit a huge three soon after to cut the lead to three points. On the next possession, Harper Jr. took a difficult contested jumper as the shot clock wound down. However, Carter came down with the offensive rebound and drew Kaleb Wesson’s fourth foul of the game. He made one of two and despite not making a field goal in over four minutes, Rutgers led 58-54 with under five minutes to play.

The Buckeyes took control like good teams do and went on a 7-0 run to lead 61-58 with just over two minutes left in the game. However, Mathis continued his strong play by penetrating into the paint and making a big time basket in traffic to cut the lead to 1 point. Ohio State called timeout with 1:37 remaining. Rutgers came out in a 2-3 zone out of the timeout and it forced a Buckeye mistake, their 13th turnover of the game. Mathis once again stayed in attack mode and made a huge basket to give Rutgers a 62-61 lead. After a defensive stop on the other end, Pikiell called a timeout with 32 seconds to play.

Pikiell put the ball in the hands of Baker, who hadn’t scored in almost 25 minutes of the game. However, in isolation and the shot clock running out, Baker knocked down a massive jumper to give Rutgers a three-point lead with 10 plus seconds remaining. After a timeout, Ohio State got what they wanted, as C.J. Jackson got an open look from behind the arc, but he missed it. The game was over as Rutgers won in stunning fashion, ending the contest on a 6-0 run!

The Game Turned When

With Rutgers leading 55-45 and nine minutes remaining, they lost patience on the offensive end and fell into a 1 of 9 shooting slump. Ohio State outscored them 16-3 over a six plus minute period to assume control of the game after trailing most of the night. However, unlike so many times before, Rutgers didn’t fall apart. They ended the game on the two runners from Mathis and contested jumper from Baker, along with shut down defense.

Game Balls

Ohio State was led by Kaleb Wesson, who despite the foul trouble all night, led all scorers with 18 points and added 7 boards. Also, former 5-star recruit and New Jersey native Luther Muhammad was huge for the Buckeyes. In addition to scoring 13 points and grabbing 6 rebounds, he shut down Baker the last 25 minutes of the game with an impressive defensive performance. However, Baker made the biggest shot of the game at the end.

Montez Mathis was even better in this game after a breakout performance against Maryland. He was aggressive yet under control and was in attack mode all night. He led Rutgers with 16 points on 7 of 11 shooting and grabbed 4 rebounds. His two baskets to give RU the lead will be a moment to look back on in his development, as the former 4-star recruit is now showing how bright his future is. Geo finished with 15 points and despite getting shut out the entire second half until the final possession of the game, he came through in the clutch. He also had 5 rebounds and 4 assists, but his confidence in the first half kept Rutgers in it after the Omoruyi injury.

Key Team Stats

Rutgers shot 46% from the floor in the second half and was an impressive 15 of 20 from the free throw line in the game. They won the turnover battle (+3) and took care of the basketball much better than they have in Big Ten play so far. They were -1 on the boards but grabbed some key offensive rebounds in the second half. Rutgers also held a 12-6 edge with fast break points and amazingly led for 29 minutes in the game.

Other Notable Individual Stats

Shaq Carter was very good and finished with 11 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals, coming up huge in Omoruyi’s absence. Ron Harper Jr. also hit some big shots, scoring 12 points on just 3 of 13 shooting, but made two huge three’s in the game. Shaq Doorson played great defense and his 5 point, 6 rebound, 3 block effort was a big part of the win too.

What We Learned

Rutgers came out aggressive and with purpose on the offensive end. They shared the basketball, had great offensive balance with four players scoring in double figures, and attacked the rim throughout the game. This could be a major turning point in the season and development of this team if they can build off of this performance. It was a total team effort and proved they can compete with any team in the Big Ten when they play together and play smart. They won the game without its leading scorer and rebounder, as well as only shooting 42% in the game. However, the defense was fantastic and the halfcourt offense was the best its been in Big Ten play this season.

What’s Next

Rutgers hits the road to take on Minnesota (12-3; 2-2) this Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET. The Golden Gophers have been up and down, beating a ranked Wisconsin team on the road last week, followed by a 15 point loss at home to Maryland on Tuesday. After tonight’s victory, Rutgers is 8-6 overall and 1-3 in Big Ten play. Saturday’s game is another opportunity to make a statement they belong in this league and they head to Minneapolis with a ton of confidence.


For Dave White’s four thoughts, click here.

Steve Pikiell pushes all the right buttons in upset victory