Rutgers drops road contest against Ohio State
Knights winning streak ends at 3 games
Three weeks after the Rutgers basketball team took down then-No.16 Ohio State inside the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) for its first Big Ten win of the season and making a statement for the rest of the conference, the team traveled to Columbus, Ohio to try and recreate its success.
But, the Scarlet Knights (11-10, 4-7) couldn’t capture that same magic on the road, losing to the Buckeyes (14-7, 4-6), 76-62, inside Value City Arena — snapping the team’s three-game winning streak.
“Credit to Ohio State,” said head coach Steve Pikiell, according to scarletknights.com. “They had a good crowd here today and they played really well … They are well-coached. That's a program I have a lot of respect for. It wasn't our day today. And they had a good day.”
Ohio State, and especially forward Kaleb Wesson, started off the game hot. Eighteen minutes into the first half, Wesson scored 22 points on an 8-9 shooting performance which included going 3-3 from beyond the arc and 2-2 from the free throw line.
In fact, Wesson scored more points by himself in the first than Rutgers’ starting five had combined and after the 20-minute mark, the Buckeyes had a 37-29 lead.
“Everyone tries to slow him down. When he's making threes like that it's a problem. We can only take away so many things,” Pikiell said about Wesson. “I thought he was outstanding today, that got them off to a great start, and kind of carried them. If he shoots the ball like that, it is going to cause problems for a lot of coaches.”
Meanwhile, for the Knights, sophomore guard Geo Baker struggled the entire game scoring only 5 points on 2-10 shooting. It was just the fourth time all season Baker failed to reach double-digit points.
In Baker’s absence, true freshman guard Caleb McConnell stepped up, tying his career high in points (14), but just the first time he eclipsed double-digit points against a conference foe.
“Teams can go on winning streaks and losing streaks in this league,” Pikiell said. “We play one game at a time. We have one senior and 7 of our top 11 players are freshmen or sophomores. We'll keep grinding.”
As for the team’s other highly regarded freshmen in guard Ron Harper Jr., forward Montez Mathis and center Myles Johnson, the trio had a combined 11 points.
But, in spite of McConnell’s efforts, this Rutgers offense, which runs through Baker, had a tough time getting set up all game long, even though the Knights dominated the boards, out-rebounding Ohio State 36-25.
“We're always physical,” Pikiell said. “We got a few offensive rebounds, but we didn't finish enough plays. You are not going to beat Ohio State at Ohio State when its two best players have great nights. We pride ourselves on our good defense and just didn't accomplish that today.”
It’s true: during Rutgers’ three-game winning streak, the defense hadn’t allowed 70 points in any of them. In fact, the Knights have let up 70 or more points in just eight games this season, boasting one of the better defenses in the conference.
Nevertheless, one of the few bright spots of the day was junior forward Eugene Omoruyi. Omoruyi, who dislocated his knee cap the last time Rutgers faced off against the Buckeyes and was making only his second start since coming back from the injury, had 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
It looks like the Knights can breathe a sigh of relief as their oft-injured captain and leading scorer looks to be back on track.
For now, Rutgers will have to put this one behind it and get ready for its biggest challenge this season when it hosts No. 5 Michigan inside the RAC tomorrow, proving there are no days off in this conference.
“This is a great league. We have Michigan next. The RAC is sold out. Nothing is easy,” Pikiell said.
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