The Ohio State men’s basketball team has been searching for a win, or even a moment to hang it’s hat on since the season began on Nov. 11. After gutsy performances against Virginia and Nebraska, but no real signature performance, the Buckeyes looked to have finally picked up a win they can brag about with their 70-66 win over Michigan.
Fast-forward four days later, and the gleam of the win is over and reality is setting in once again. OSU is still near the bottom of the conference, with little time to climb the ladder before the Big Ten Tournament kicks off. Rutgers, the Buckeyes’ next opponent, will be a tell-all test to see whether OSU has it figured out or not.
Redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson said the biggest difference in the Michigan game and the rest of the season was the focus and intensity going in.
“Our biggest thing before the game was all in … and one time,” he said. “We just basically told ourselves one time, just give it everything we’ve got. This is going to be good, and continuing to build off of it.”
The Scarlet Knights are coming off a big win in their own right. For the first time in 24 conference games, Rutgers beat a Big Ten opponent on the road in Penn State.
Rutgers sophomore guard Corey Sanders picked up 25 points in the team’s win, and is averaging 13.0 points per contest this season. Not far behind is redshirt junior forward Deshawn Freeman, who averages 11.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
Outside of the starting five, Rutgers has little in terms of point production. Freshman forward/guard Issa Thiam, who has started 12 games but averages just 16.4 minutes and 3.9 points per game, will likely be in the starting unit against OSU after logging 29 minutes and starting at forward against Penn State.
OSU has benefited from solid play in the paint by Thompson and junior forward Jae’Sean Tate, which could spell problems for Rutgers. Scarlet Knights’ senior center C.J. Gettys, a Columbus native, averages just 7.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, and has been known to be slow in the paint at times.
Rutgers turned the ball over 15 times last game, right on par for its 14.3 turnovers per game average. Both teams have a -0.8 turnover margin coming into the game, making Wednesday’s matchup a surefire defensive free-for-all.
OSU has been experimenting with getting inexperienced players more playing time, most notably with freshman forward Andrew Wesson. Wesson said his contributions are all for not if they don’t benefit the team, and he said he was just trying to put a spark in his team against Michigan.
“When I come into the game I just try to make a difference any way I can,” he said. “If that’s rebounding, making defensive plays, whatever they need me to do. That’s what I try to do.”
Thompson said this year’s Rutgers team is one of the better ones in recent history, but the numbers say otherwise. As a team, the Scarlet Knights shoot just 41.4 percent from the field, and just 29.4 percent from deep.
Whether OSU has the kind of spark needed for the rest of the season might be plainly obvious against Rutgers, as a team with a 2-9 conference record could be the kind of trap game that exposes certain issues from earlier this year.
On the other hand, the Buckeyes could absolutely dominate Rutgers, and get just enough fan attention to revive talks about the conference tournament once again. Either way, coach Thad Matta isn’t taking anything for granted just yet, and isn’t concerned with the confidence his team has after a win.
“I want to see us string something together,” he said.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.