Every Big Ten opponent has presented the Ohio State men’s basketball team with a challenge this season. In the same breath, OSU has struggled to finish teams off when sporting a sizable advantage. Big Ten bottom-feeder Rutgers was no different.
The Buckeyes scraped out a 70-64 win over the Scarlet Knights (13-12, 2-10 Big Ten) on Wednesday at the Schottenstein Center on the shoulders of redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson and the shooting hand of redshirt junior guard Kam Williams.
The game was tied twice in the later stages until Williams converted a four-point play from the right wing in front of his own bench to take the lead 66-62 with 1:05 remaining.
“It was a good play (call) by (assistant) coach (Chris) Jent. It was a little horns action,” Williams said. “I just went down to the box and Trevor set me a good screen so I just ran my defender and knocked the shot down.”
Thompson had 15 points and 13 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season. Williams led OSU with 23 points, which matched a career high that he set against Navy on Nov. 11, and his 15 attempted shots are the most in a single game in his three seasons in Columbus. He made eight of them.
Following an upset win at Michigan over the weekend that appeared to be a couple steps in the right direction, the Buckeyes (15-10, 5-7 Big Ten) didn’t match the same toughness or urgency they had on Saturday. They were outrebounded in the second half and committed 15 turnovers — eight of which were from the point guard position.
The Buckeyes squandered two double-digit leads by not executing on offensive sets when they had the chance. OSU coach Thad Matta said that in game preparation, he paused film in the middle of a session to tell his players they could be in the same exact situation against Rutgers that was depicted on the screen, up 12 with a chance to pull away.
That team executed a dunk. OSU allowed Rutgers to build a 12-4 run and cut the score to 45-41.
“We had plays on the offensive end where we were not sharp, weren’t dialed in,” Matta said. “Second half, a couple times it was like we had cement shoes on. We just couldn’t move to go get the basketball.”
For a second straight game, Jackson started over sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle at point guard because of a lingering ankle injury that Lyle suffered last week before the Michigan game. Lyle finished the game with two points in 16 minutes of play.
After the game, Matta said that Lyle approached him at halftime and said that he was done playing due to discomfort in his ankle, suggesting that the injury might be more serious than Matta anticipated given Lyle practice fully on Tuesday. Lyle played for a limited amount of time in the second half.
Matta said that both point guards played with the ball a little too much in the first half, which led to several careless turnovers. He added that he was pleased in some aspects of both Jackson’s and Lyle’s games, but there’s a ball-handling issue that needs to be resolved moving forward.
“We didn’t play at the level I wanted us to play at,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “We did some good things but it wasn’t all the way through the game at the level I was hoping to play at.”
The Buckeyes will try to gain some ground with another upset road win on Saturday when they play No. 21 Maryland Terrapins in College Park, Maryland, at 4 p.m.