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When is it right? Rutgers fouls Ohio State up 3 points in final seconds

The Scarlet Knights decided to take this chance on Thursday night.

Syndication: Asbury Park Press Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The age-old question — do you foul a team when leading by three points in the final seconds of a game? Or do you let it play out?

Steve Pikiell has typically taken the side of letting his team defend rather than fouling with a three-point lead, which usually gives the opponent points automatically. At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong. It all depends on preference of the coach and the trust that you have in your defense. Of course, when all goes wrong, it will be discussed at length.

Rutgers held a three-point lead with seven seconds left against Ohio State in Columbus on Thursday night. The Scarlet Knights decided to foul and send the Buckeyes to the free throw line. This is the first topic of discussion. Opponents are shooting 22.7% from three-point range against Rutgers this season. That is tops in the Big Ten and among the best in the nation. The Scarlet Knights have defended the three-point line extremely well in the half court. Throw away the final shot that was made considering it was a scramble play (and yes, one of the two Buckeyes likely stepped out of bounds). This is a situation where you want to trust your defense to not allow a three late in the game.

“I just thought, with our three point lead right there, just get them to not be able to heave up a three with that little time left on the clock,” Pikiell said. “We got what we wanted. We got to the free throw line and we didn’t finish the deal. Just disappointing.”

Bruce Thornton hit both free throws to cut the deficit to one. The second point is, free throws have been a struggle for the Scarlet Knights in recent years. They are shooting 70.1% from the line this season. On paper, Rutgers got the right guy to the line. Caleb McConnell made his first 10 free throws of the season before missing the second to keep the lead at two. We all know what happened next.

McConnell’s missed free throw is not the reason Rutgers lost this game. Pikiell’s decision, while could be a bit head-scratching, was not the reason. Ohio State hit a shot when needed and potentially got away with two missed calls within a second of each other (we will discuss over the next two days). And of course, hindsight is always 20-20.

If the Scarlet Knights win this game, the decision to foul up three is not discussed. There are some out there who would have let it play out. If Ohio State hit a three, Rutgers would have gotten the ball back with little time to make a play. Worst case there, the game goes to overtime. Of course, the Scarlet Knights are hoping for a miss from Ohio State at the line or for your own player to make both.

There is no fool-proof way to end a game. Ultimately, Rutgers decided to foul, Ohio State hit a shot, and it is yet another heartbreaking loss on the road early in the season. Once all of the dust clears, fans can hang their hats on the fact that this team is as good as any over the years. This will not be the last time the Scarlet Knights are attempting to pull off an upset victory.

“We played our hearts out,” Pikiell said. “Every guy came in and gave us something, but we were one possession short here. This is life on the road. This league is not fun.”