It would be an understatement to say No. 16 Ohio State had a bad week.
The Buckeyes lost 79-56 to Penn State on Thursday, then fell 74-62 to Michigan on Sunday in back-to-back road games. The two losses dropped Ohio State from first place in the Big Ten to a tie with Purdue for second behind Michigan State with just two games remaining.
With its Big Ten regular-season title hopes all but dashed, Ohio State (22-6, 11-3 Big Ten) will focus on bouncing back from the losses and gaining momentum heading into Big Ten tournament play in its its final home game of the season against Rutgers at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
G — Corey Sanders — Junior, 6-foot-2, 176 lbs., 14.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.1 apg
G — Geo Baker — Freshman, 6-foot-4, 180 lbs., 10.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 0.9 apg
G — Issa Thiam — Sophomore, 6-foot-10, 190 lbs., 7.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 0.6 apg
F — Deshawn Freeman — Senior, 6-foot-7, 227 lbs., 11.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 0.9 apg
C — Shaquille Doorson — Junior, 7-foot, 275 lbs., 2.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 0.2 apg
G — C.J. Jackson — Junior, 6-foot-1, 175 lbs., 12.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.0 apg
F — Jae’Sean Tate — Senior, 6-foot-4, 230 lbs., 12.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.9 apg
F — Andre Wesson — Sophomore, 6-foot-6, 220 lbs., 2.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.1 apg
F — Keita Bates-Diop — Redshirt junior, 6-foot-7, 235 lbs., 19.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.6 apg
C — Kaleb Wesson — Freshman, 6-foot-9, 270 lbs., 10.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.0 apg
Addressing recent struggles
Though Rutgers will bring one of the nation’s worst offenses to Columbus, this game will be pivotal for Ohio State to begin addressing issues highlighted in last week’s losses.
The Buckeyes lost physical battles against both Penn State and Michigan. Penn State out-rebounded Ohio State 38-30. Michigan finished with a slight 26-25 defensive rebounding advantage, but also scored 32 points in the paint.
Part of the Buckeyes’ issues stemmed from defending guards larger than their own. Penn State’s 6-foot-5, 204-pound guard Tony Carr dropped 30 points — including 4-for-8 from 3-point range — against Ohio State. The next game, Michigan’s 6-foot-4, 190-pound guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman delivered 17 points, and 6-foot-4, 190-pound freshman Jordan Poole scored 15.
Rutgers is fourth in the conference in offensive rebounding, the 30th-tallest team in the country and has relied on strong post play to generate the bulk of its scoring. Overall, 60.5 percent of its points have come from 2-pointers this season, the second-highest percentage in the country.
The Scarlet Knights also have received the most out of their guards. Geo Baker and Corey Sanders are two of the highest point-scorers on the team. The two were the only players to score double-digits against Ohio State in the last meeting between the two teams on Jan. 14.
It would seem like a concerning matchup for the Buckeyes if not for the team’s inept offense. The Scarlet Knights average the 20th-fewest points per game in the nation with the ninth-lowest field-goal percentage in the country.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said going up against a good rebounding team and one that relies on interior scoring to win means his team will need to focus on what plagued it in the past two games.
“When their guards are rolling and their bigs play off their guards really well, they make it for a difficult matchup,” Holtmann said. “It’s as physical a team as we probably play in the Big Ten I think. So I’m anxious to see how our guys respond to their physicality and length and rebounding ability.”
Tuesday night will mark the final time seniors Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams and Andrew Dakich take the court at the Schottenstein Center as Buckeyes. There is also a chance it will be redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop’s final home game in Scarlet and Gray, if he forgoes his remaining year of eligibility to leave for the NBA draft.
There will be a pregame ceremony for the seniors and Bates-Diop, and a chance for the players to address the fans after the game.
Tate said his collegiate career has not flown by, but that his senior year has felt quicker than any other season despite the fact it could last longer than most other years due to the chance for extended postseason play.
“Maybe that’s because we’re winning, having more fun than we have in a couple past years,” Tate said. “We’ve still got a good team coming in tomorrow, and we’ve still got to prepare for Indiana and make noise in the Big Ten tournament.”