Whether it was a hot opposing shooting streak to close a half, foul trouble or offensive woes, Ohio State men’s basketball’s three-game bubble of momentum was popped at Wisconsin Sunday.
With their short-lived winning streak having evaporated at the hands of the Badgers, the Buckeyes (15-8, 5-7 Big Ten) return home to face Rutgers (17-7, 8-5) Wednesday.
Led by fourth-year head coach Steve Pikiell, the Scarlet Knights have already surpassed their win total from every season dating back to 2005-06.
“I always thought they were a good team, to be honest,” sophomore guard Luther Muhammad said. “It just so happened that this year, on paper, it seems like they’re a lot better.”
For the first time since losing six of seven games from Dec. 29 to Jan. 23, the Buckeyes failed to muster 60 points against the Badgers. They shot just 37 percent from the field, with junior forward Kaleb Wesson, the team’s No. 1 scorer, finishing 2-for-11.
After Wesson left the first half with two fouls, Wisconsin went on a 23-5 run en route to its 70-57 victory.
“You’ve gotta make the corrections, but it can’t stay with you as players and as coaches,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said. “I think that’s really, really important, to move quickly. We tried to do that yesterday with practice. Get out and do some things that were high energy, that we felt were important in terms of turning the page.”
Regardless of the reason for its loss on the road, Holtmann said Ohio State is locked in on the finer details for its upcoming home games.
“When we’re talking to our guys in the midst of a game, we constantly are talking about, ‘Make the right next play,’” Holtmann said. “You’ve gotta make the next right play, whatever is demanded of you. To get too much outside of that can put too much on any of us.”
Rutgers enters the game on a cold stretch. At one time ranked, the Scarlet Knights lost back-to-back games against Michigan and No. 9 Maryland to fall from the Associated Press Poll top 25 before beating Big Ten cellar dweller Northwestern in overtime.
The Scarlet Knights take a by-committee approach on the offensive end, with six players scoring between eight and 11.3 points per game.
The high-water mark of 11.3 is set by sophomore forward Ron Harper.
Harper’s father, Ron Harper Sr., played 14 NBA seasons and won five championships.
Joining him in the frontcourt are sophomore center Myles Johnson, the team’s leading rebounder with 8.1 per game, and redshirt senior forward Akwasi Yeboah, its No. 2 scorer.
Junior Geo Baker leads the charge at guard, with 10 points and a team-high 3.6 assists per game.
“[Rutgers is] deep and athletic. Really well coached,” Holtmann said. “They’ve had a great season.”
While its shotgun offensive approach leaves Rutgers at No. 10 in the conference for scoring offense, its shooting defense trails only Michigan State with opponents converting 38 percent of their attempts.
Rutgers’ 61.4 points allowed per game, which is also second in the Big Ten, represents a line of demarcation for the Buckeyes, whose losses have come mostly when their offense sputters.
When Ohio State fails to accrue 61 points, it is 0-6 this season. When it meets or surpasses the mark, the team is 15-2, including a 61-58 win at Michigan Feb. 4.
To spark its offensive rhythm, the Buckeyes will need to surround Wesson with solid team play, freshman forward E.J. Liddell said.
“When Kaleb’s off the floor, we all have to stay together instead of peeling apart, trying to do our own thing,” Liddell said. “Rather, having more assists than we did Sunday night, and just keep playing together as a unit.”
The Buckeyes and Scarlet Knights tip off at 7 p.m. Wednesday.