Somehow it just keeps getting worse.
Ohio State Athletic Director and Senior Vice President Gene Smith backed basketball coach Thad Matta on Wednesday morning amid a tough stretch, but the encouraging words were not enough to inspire the Buckeyes that evening.
OSU lost in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament to Rutgers 66-57, and looked every part of the team that struggled to find its way during conference play.
Rutgers redshirt junior guard Nigel Johnson was a difference maker for the Scarlet Knights, racking up 21 points and going 3 of 6 from 3-point range. OSU junior forward Jae’Sean Tate did his best to keep the Buckeyes conference tournament dreams alive, picking up 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field.
However, Tate had the turnover bug, giving the ball away seven times. Redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson, OSU’s bright spot throughout the season, struggled with early foul trouble, but still managed eight points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.
OSU started the game out hot, jumping ahead with an 11-3 run, before Rutgers reeled the Buckeyes back in prior to taking the lead on a Johnson jumper with 9:16 remaining in the first half. OSU fired frequently from deep, but struggled to find the mark, going just 4 of 12 from outside the arc.
Neither side mounted much offense, combining for 17 turnovers in the first. After OSU regained the lead with 2:47 left in the first on a 3-pointer by redshirt sophomore guard C.J. Jackson, the Buckeyes held onto the lead heading into halftime.
Jackson was a key offensive proponent in the first, knocking down three shots from deep and racking up four assists. The Buckeyes help a slim 32-29 lead heading into the locker room at halftime.
Coming out of the gate in the second half, Rutgers quickly tied the game before grabbing a six-point lead. The Buckeyes responded with a six-point run, tying the game at 39 before either side traded shots for the lead.
Tate continued his effort to put OSU over the top, but another six-point scoring outburst by Rutgers, capped off by a layup by junior forward Candido Sa, gave the Scarlet Knights enough momentum to stay out in front.
OSU needed a big boost from senior forward Marc Loving and sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle, two Buckeyes with some of the best scoring ability. However, they were nearly nonexistent in the box score, tallying just five points apiece.
A deep Johnson 3-pointer with 2:18 gave Rutgers a 58-53 lead, and seemed to take the life out of the small Buckeye crowd that traveled to Washington. More late turnovers by the Buckeyes allowed the Scarlet Knights to comfortably wrap things up.
Coming into the game, Rutgers was ranked 347th in the nation in free throw percentage, but knocked down four straight to seal the deal, and move on to the second round of the conference tournament.
Rutgers will face Northwestern following the Iowa-Indiana matchup on Thursday. OSU will now wait to see where it ends up, but a National Invitational Tournament berth seems likely.