COLUMBUS — In search of a resume-boosting win, Ohio State rode a hot first-half shooting effort to a 72-66 win over Rutgers in Value City Arena on Wednesday night.
Kaleb Wesson led the buckeyes with 16 points, and Andre Wesson notched a double-double with a 13-point, 10-rebound effort. Duane Washington and Luther Muhammad chipped in with 10 points each.
The Wessons got the Buckeyes off to a strong start with consecutive three-pointers in the opening minutes as Ohio State jumped out to a quick 6-3 lead.
A 12-4 Ohio State run spanning 3:30 increased the Buckeyes’ lead to 20-10 midway through the opening period, and they would maintain their comfortable lead through most of the first half before closing out the half the same way they began.
In their loss at Wisconsin on Sunday, Ohio State let the game get away from them in the closing minutes of the first half as Wisconsin hit them with a flurry of punches that all but knocked the Buckeyes out of the game. On this night, it was Ohio State throwing the closing punches of the first half.
With under a minute remaining in the first half, Andre Wesson connected on his second three-pointer of the game to increase the Ohio State lead to 12 points at 42-30. Following a stop on the defensive end, Justin Ahrens buried a wide-open transition three from the wing to send the Buckeyes into the locker room with the 15-point advantage, tied for their largest lead of the first half.
Ohio State shot 52 percent in the first half, including 7-17 from three-point range, and committed just four turnovers in as good an opening half performance as they’ve had in conference play.
The lead stretched to as many as 20 points for Ohio State over the opening five minutes of the second half as it appeared the Buckeyes would cruise to their sixth conference win of the season. Rutgers, however, would no go quietly as the Ohio State saw their sizeable lead nearly evaporate entirely over the final six minutes.
Rutgers’ Jacob Young, who finished with a team-high 17 points, was at the forefront of the Scarlet Knights’ comeback effort, cutting Ohio State’s lead to 10 points at 63-53 on a layup with just over four minutes remaining. Following a made jumper by Kaleb Wesson, Young’s three-pointer got the Scarlet Knights to within single digits for the first time since the 8:50 mark of the first half.
Ohio State’s lead continued to dwindle when a three by Rutgers’ Ron Harper Jr. closed the deficit to six points with less than two minutes remaining.
Rutgers’ hot streak coincided with an all-too-familiar scoring drought for Ohio State, who went more than two minutes in the final stages of the game without scoring a bucket
Geo Baker’s three for Rutgers made it a one-possession game with 27 seconds remaining as Ohio State continued to search for points to stave off the comeback bid.
Forced to foul in order to extend the game, Rutgers sent Andre Wesson to the free-throw line where he knocked down one of two to increase their lead to four points.
Down by four and with possession, Baker’s three-point attempt could have cut the lead to just one but rimmed out. C.J. Walker secured the rebound with 12 seconds remaining and, following a pair of made free throws, sealed an important win for Ohio State’s tournament outlook.
Following the game, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said of Rutgers’ comeback bid, “We knew, we kept saying it to our guys, that the second half was going to be a different half. And it certainly was that. We survived against a really good team.”
Holtmann said there was no way he was going to be sour in any way about his team’s win, although he pointed there are still plenty of things they need to improve on. “No question, we have to do some things better,” he said. “You’re always learning from wins and losses. Every moment is a teachable moment.”
With the win, Ohio State is now 16-8 on the season and 6-7 in Big Ten play. They will return to the floor on Saturday when they host Purdue in Value City Arena. Tipoff for that game is set for noon.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.