Rutgers falls short in Columbus against Ohio State
The Rutgers men’s basketball team didn’t give in Wednesday night in Columbus.
There were many moments in its game against Ohio State in which the Scarlet Knights of last year would’ve let the Buckeyes pile on the points en route to a blowout, but they dug themselves out of almost every hole they found themselves in at the Value City Arena.
When Ohio State jumped out to an 11-point lead midway through the first half, they responded with an 11-6 run in the final six minutes of the period to reduce their halftime deficit to 6.
When the Buckeyes came out at the second half and stretched their lead to a game-high 12 points, the Knights countered with a 21-9 run to tie the game at 50, putting themselves back into a game that could’ve easily slipped away.
When its leading scorer fouled out with it trailing by 5 points with as many minutes remaining, Rutgers didn’t wilt — it continued to fight.
It wouldn’t let the Buckeyes slip away, tying the game at 62 with a minute and 19 seconds remaining through a putback from freshman forward Issa Thiam.
But when Kam Chancellor scored 4 of his game-high 23 points after getting fouled on a made 3-pointer on the other end of the floor on the very next play, it signaled the end of the fight, the dagger in the heart of the Knights.
Ohio State outscored Rutgers in the final minute by the same margin as the Knights outscored the Buckeyes in the opening three — 8-4 — putting the end to a comeback bid that fell short in a 70-64 loss for the visitors.
The last 5 points scored came from the free throw line, where Rutgers’ season-long struggles continued. The Knights went 12-for-20 from the charity stripe — make all their free throws and they’d be celebrating their first conference road win streak in 17 years.
“That was a back-breaker, that 4-point play,” said head coach Steve Pikiell to Jerry Recco of Rutgers’ IMG Radio Network. “We fight, we outrebounded them, we cut our turnovers down. We just continue to miss free throws, which really hurts us a big deal. But they hit the 4-point play and it was kind of a dagger in the game.”
The first time Sanders fouled out of a game in his collegiate career came on a night in which Rutgers got contributions from nearly every player it took to the Buckeye State.
Nine different players scored for the Knights, including double-digit outputs from Sanders, junior forward Deshawn Freeman, junior guard Mike Williams and freshman forward Issa Thiam.
The latter two worked together to cut an early 23-8 run from the Buckeyes off, with Williams following up Thiam’s first trey of the game with a midrange jumper of his own.
It would spark a final six-minute stretch in which the Knights outscored the Buckeyes 11-6 before heading into halftime.
Thiam’s second three came in the midst of Rutgers going on a run of its own, a 21-9 stretch after some back-and-forth to start the second half. It would tie the game up at 50, setting up a final 10 minutes that saw the Buckeyes try to run away with the game before the Knights pulled themselves back in.
The Dakar, Senegal, native was slotted into the starting line-up over fellow freshman Eugene Omoruyi for the second consecutive game, putting in a performance that did not disappoint.
“Issa’s getting better. He’s playing with great energy,” Pikiell said. “He made some big plays today, some big steals. I’m starting to like this lineup a little bit, it’s a little bit tougher and some more size.”
Thiam, a 3-point specialist coming into Piscataway, tied the game with a tip-in. Freeman, who garnered another double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds through his typically gritty play in the paint, took 3-pointer with the Knights down 4 points in the final minute.
The role reversal was a sign of Sanders’ absence, a stagnancy in the offense down the stretch of a tight game.
“Corey fouling out at the end is a big disadvantage for us too,” Pikiell said. “Especially down the stretch.”
Rutgers returns to Piscataway with another loss, its 10th since the start of Big Ten play. As dismal as it looks on paper, the record already surpasses the win total the Knights had last season.
Slated to host Minnesota Saturday at the Rutgers Athletic Center, the venue where Rutgers got its only conference win last season in the regular season finale against a depleted Golden Gopher squad, the Knights bring yet another reinforcement of the same sentiment they’ve been feeling throughout the Big Ten schedule.
“We just gotta keep playing,” Pikiell said. “We can play with anyone in this league, we’ve proven that. Now we just gotta finish some of these games off.”