Rutgers stumbles on the road in loss to No. 16 Ohio State
Knights lose by 27 after being down just 5 at halftime
With just one game separating the Rutgers men's basketball team from the Big Ten Tournament, the Scarlet Knights are in a similar position as last year.
Rutgers can still potentially enter its fourth consecutive Big Ten Tournament in last place, as the Knights (13-17, 3-14) failed to inch their way up the conference standings Tuesday night in a loss against the team they defeated in the first round of last year's tournament — the No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes (23-7, 14-3).
Ohio State firmly held its ground against Rutgers at the Value City Arena Tuesday night in a 79-52 finish, as the Buckeyes keep their sights set on a Big Ten Championship title despite two late-season losses against Penn State and Michigan.
Head coach Steve Pikiell made some changes to his team's starting lineup from its loss last time out on the road against Maryland, slotting in junior center Shaquille Doorson for his first career start over freshman center Mamadou Doucoure and senior guard Mike Williams over freshman guard Geo Baker due to illness.
Sophomore forward Eugene Omoruyi got the nod over fifth-year senior forward Deshawn Freeman for the third straight game Tuesday night, and as of late, Omoruyi has been one of the more promising signs coming out of the team after returning from injury, alongside junior guard Corey Sanders.
Although Omoruyi had a quiet night from the field, going 2-of-5 for 4 points, Sanders once again paced his side on the floor, nabbing 12 points without his usual backcourt partner in Baker.
Sanders was helped along in the first half by sophomore guard Issa Thiam, who had another cold night from beyond the 3-point line, but he was able to take advantage of the considerably smaller C.J. Jackson in the paint before Ohio State switched around its matchups.
Despite Thiam's looks from inside, the Buckeyes did not need much time to get themselves together offensively, as senior Kam Williams ushered in Senior Night and his final game in Columbus with an explosive performance right out of the gate.
The Knights faced a team on Senior Night led by seniors in Kam Williams and Jae'Sean Tate, who celebrated their final night in Columbus with inspired performances from the field.
It seemed like Rutgers could not find an answer to Williams in the early going, as he led a 10-0 run in the opening minutes to give his side a lead it would not give up.
Williams put up 8 points in that run, including two early baskets from downtown, as part of his 13-point night on 3-of-5 shooting from 3.
Runs like those have haunted the Knights over the last few games, as the team has proved unresponsive on offense when opponents get into rhythms of their own. Ohio State set out on two 10-0 runs in the first half alone, and droughts like those for Rutgers has given it deficits difficult to break out of going into the second half.
The win over Northwestern last weekend seemed to be the exception to the rule, as Sanders almost single-handedly led his team to overtime and then victory following a disappointing first half.
Against the Buckeyes Tuesday night, the Knights seemed to draw motivation from that win, embarking on a 16-2 run to close out the first half, looking to make that hill much more achievable in the second half.
But Rutgers could not extend that success into the second half, as Ohio State came out of the break swinging, with Kaleb Wesson and Jackson joining Williams in double digits.
The freshman Wesson enjoyed his first Senior Night with a 14-point night, giving the Buckeyes a valuable asset inside, while Jackson, Williams and Tate primarily patrolled the perimeter.
Wesson helped his side dominate in the rebounding category, a stat which the Knights usually take care of even on losing nights.
Though Rutgers still grabbed its fair share of offensive boards, the team had trouble all night converting on second-chance opportunities, and those wasted possessions piled up for the Knights.
After climbing back shot by shot toward the end of the first half, Rutgers could not garner the same energy after halftime, with Ohio State outscoring the Knights by 22 points in the second half.
Rutgers takes that into its final matchup of the regular season in what could likely be a preview of the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. In one of those two games, the Knights will need to be able to put together two strong halves to survive.
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