Rutgers eyes second consecutive road win versus Ohio State
Four days after earning its first-ever Big Ten road win since joining the conference three years ago, the Rutgers men’s basketball team has a chance to make the historic victory into a memorable streak.
The Scarlet Knights (13-11, 2-9) travel to Columbus to take on Ohio State (14-10, 4-7) Wednesday, where earning a win would be their first time winning consecutive road conference games since February of 2000 when they were a member of the Big East.
The last time they won consecutive road conference games in back-to-back fashion was in the month of February of 1991 while in the Atlantic 10 conference.
They will come into the Buckeye State riding high off a 70-68 win over Penn State in State College Saturday.
It was the largest scoring output of conference play for Rutgers and was led by Corey Sanders. The sophomore guard put together one of the best performances of his collegiate career, dropping a game-high 25 points while grabbing six rebounds and dishing four assists, carrying the load in the absence of injured backcourt partner Nigel Johnson.
“That was the best game I’ve seen him play all year, for sure,” said Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers of Sanders. “We tried to trap him, we tried to blitz him, we tried to throw everything and the kitchen sink at him and he still hit a floater, he hit a three, we had somebody fall down. They played harder and when you play harder, good things happen.”
The Knights' head coach Steve Pikiell said he was proud of Sanders' toughness as he pushed through a season-high 39 minutes before praising another spectacular defensive effort.
It was the most evident when he managed to stay in front of Tony Carr, who he held to 17 points on 3-for-11 shooting on the night, on the final drive of the game, forcing him to take and miss a potential game-winner in the final seconds.
Rutgers will need another strong performance on the defensive end from Sanders, who will likely be tasked with containing fellow sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle. He managed to do so the last time the Knights faced Ohio State, holding Lyle to 4 points in 26 minutes at the Rutgers Athletic Center last season.
The Buckeyes would come out with the win in spite of Lyle’s less-than-inspired performance, with Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate carrying the load.
Though Rutgers will not have to worry about Bates-Diop, who is out for the season following surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left leg in the beginning of January, they will need to control both Tate and his frontcourt partner Marc Loving in the paint and on the boards.
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta mentioned the Knights’ ability to dominate the glass on his radio show Monday, citing it as one of the keys to the game along with playing with tempo, something Rutgers has struggled against this season.
"We've gotta be able to get rebounds and push the pace and the tempo," Matta said.
Winning the battle of the boards against the Nittany Lions Saturday by a healthy margin of 39-27 (15-8 on the offensive glass) was crucial to taking the victory and it will be once again at the Value City Arena Wednesday.
For the first time since defeating Nebraska at the RAC in its first conference win of the season, the Knights will enter a game without rebounding from a loss in its previous match being one of the main talking points. Against the Buckeyes, the only rebounding Rutgers has to think about is off missed shots.
“We’re a good rebounding team, that’s something that we do,” Pikiell said in the postgame press conference at the Bryce Jordan Center. “It’s been something that we’ve done all year. We emphasize it all the time ... we want to be a good rebounding team. So that’s something we go into every game hoping that we have an advantage.”