After four consecutive close losses away from the RAC, three of which were against ranked teams, Rutgers appeared to bottom out on a snowy night in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes led by 20 points with 13 minutes left in the game, as the Scarlet Knights were not playing with the usual energy and focus we’ve seen most of the season. They were routinely outhustled and outworked, which was unsettling to watch. And then, RU then battled back down the stretch behind strong bench play to make it another one possession game with less than a minute to play. However, it was too little, too late as Rutgers fell to Ohio State by the final score of 72-66.
After Montez Mathis made a three-pointer on the first shot of the game, Rutgers very quickly fell into a seven plus minute stretch without a field goal. Defensively they were playing relatively well, but a wide open look for Kaleb Wesson resulted in a three-pointer that made it 15-6 Ohio State with less than eight minutes into the game.
Finally after a ball reversal, Jacob Young penetrated and scored off the glass in traffic. It was 17-10 at the under-12 media timeout and believe it or not, free throw shooting had kept Rutgers somewhat close. They were 5 of 6 from the line to start the game due to Akwasi Yeboah making 4 of 4.
Unfortunately, Kaleb Wesson made a three point play the hard way while drawing the second foul of the game on Myles Johnson with 10:30 remaining. Ohio State led by 10.
Thankfully, Rutgers became more aggressive and were able to have success off of dribble penetration. Both Paul Mulcahy and Jacob Young were able to finish with layups and Shaq Carter drew a foul after cutting to the basket and receiving a bounce pass from Young. Carter faltered at the line, missing both and it was doubly insulting as the refs reviewed the foul call and it was taken away from Wesson. It was a huge break for the Buckeyes, who led 25-16 with just under 8 minutes left in the opening frame, as it would have been his second. It was also infuriating from a Rutgers perspective.
Instead Carter soon after picked up his second foul and Mamadou Doucoure was forced into action. Andre Wesson made two big baskets for Ohio State as things were getting out of hand. However, Mulcahy stepped up with a basket in traffic off of an offensive rebound, followed by a three-pointer on the next possession. Rutgers still trailed 33-21 with under five minutes remaining in the first half.
A mini 7-2 run that was capped with another three-pointer from Mulcahy had RU within 9 points, but the Buckeyes hit back to back shots from behind the arc to lead 45-30 at the half. They made 7 of 17 from three-point range and Andre Wesson led OSU with 12 points. Rutgers was shooting 42% from the floor, but an 11-2 edge for Ohio State in points off of turnovers was a major difference in the game. Their defense wasn’t up to par and offensively they couldn’t generate any sustained runs.
After halftime, Steve Pikiell benched his starters as he was obviously displeased with their performance in the opening frame. They subbed in after the first media timeout trailing 51-33. Montez Mathis responded with a drive and score, but Myles Johnson soon picked up his third foul as Kaleb Wesson drew the offensive foul.
The Rutgers defense was getting beaten badly by the athletic Buckeyes, who were beating them to every loose ball. RU trailed 55-35 before Ron Harper Jr. knocked down a three with under 13 minutes to play.
With a chance to cut the lead to 12 points, Myles Johnson missed a dunk and remained scoreless. On the next possession, Yeboah missed two feet from the rim. And then the dagger, as Kaleb Wesson hit a three to make it 61-44 with 7:25 to play.
Give Rutgers credit as they never quit and they cut the deficit to 12 points on a Geo Baker three with 5:42 remaining. Soon after, Yeboah stole it and found Young for a layup in transition. Rutgers had made four consecutive shots to cut the lead to 10, but suffered a key turnover. Kaleb Wesson scored to put it back to 12, but Jacob Young drained a three. It was 65-56 with three minutes to play.
After they traded baskets, full court pressure forced a turnover by OSU. Ron Harper Jr. then drained a three-pointer, the seventh consecutive basket in a row for Rutgers, who trailed 67-61 with 2:09 remaining. RU got the defensive stop and Mulcahy, after passing on an open three, drove and got a good look in the middle of the paint, but he missed, his first of the game.
OSU hadn’t made a field goal in over three minutes and Rutgers got another defensive stop. In transition, Mulcahy found Young in the corner, who drew the foul behind the arc. He missed the first attempt and made the last two. RU trailed 67-63 with 37.5 seconds to play.
Kaleb Wesson was fouled and made both free throws to push the lead back to six. Geo Baker then hit a three-pointer from what seemed like Cleveland and it was a one possession game with 27 seconds remaining. Rutgers defended the inbounds play well as Harper Jr. faked playing off the inbounder and then ran at Andre Wesson, who called a timeout. They trapped the inbounds pass soon after and almost stole it, but Wesson got the fouled. He made one, but Baker missed a three on the other end and that was the ball game. OSU won by the final score of 72-66.
Kaleb Wesson led the Buckeyes with 16 points on 5 of 7 shooting and 5 rebounds. His brother Andre finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Ohio State did a masterful job taking Akwasi Yeboah all night and Geo Baker most of the game before he made an impact down the stretch. Yeboah had just 6 points and was held without a field goal, taking just three shots. He did add 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Baker finished with 13 points, including 3 of 6 from three-point range and added 5 rebounds.
Myles Johnson was a complete non-factor, finishing with 2 points and 3 rebounds in 18 minutes of action. Harper Jr. had 9 points on 2 of 4 from three-point range.
The main reason Rutgers even had a chance to win the game was the play of Paul Mulcahy and Jacob Young. Mulcahy played his best game in Big Ten play of his career, finishing with 12 points on 5 of 6 shooting, as well as 3 assists and 2 rebounds. He played with poise, urgency and made great decisions with the basketball. Young brought much needed energy and his ability to get to the rim was huge. He led Rutgers with 17 points on 7 of 9 shooting.
It was such an odd game as Rutgers shot 46% to OSU’s 43% and even was more accurate from three-point range against the best team in the league from deep. RU was 9 of 21 for 43%, while OSU was 10 of 26 for 38%. The defense of Rutgers was back to normal in the second half and held the Buckeyes to just 32% from the floor overall. However, the first half no show on the defensive end cost them the game.
The free throw line was a factor, as Ohio State made 18 of 21 for 86%. Rutgers wasn’t bad, making 13 of 18 for 72%.
While Rutgers did a tremendous job down the stretch, it was extremely frustrating to watch them play with little energy and emotion for over 30 minutes of the game. Pikiell did a good job waking them up by benching the starters out of the half and I was glad he kept Mulcahy and Young on the floor in the final minutes. However, this team has to learn that not playing well for as long as they did will cost them winnable games. Ohio State is no slouch and were as high as no. 2 in the country this season, but this was a missed opportunity to grab a signature road win in Big Ten play that remains elusive.
Up next, Rutgers returns home to the friendly confines of the Trapezoid of terror, aka the RAC, to play two games I think are fair to call must wins. They host Illinois on Saturday, followed by Michigan next Wednesday. Both are teams the Scarlet Knights lost to previously this season after being within one possession of the lead with under a minute to play. I think the way this game tonight ended could help bolster a strong start on Saturday. This team should be mad at themselves and all they can do now is worry about controlling their own destiny at the RAC.