COLUMBUS — The No. 23 Ohio State men’s basketball team roared back from a 16-point deficit in the second half to defeat No. 11 Rutgers, 80-68, in Value City Arena on Wednesday afternoon.
Duane Washington Jr. and E.J. Liddell led the way for the Buckeyes’ comeback, each recording new career highs with 22 and 21 points, respectively. Kyle Young added a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Rutgers (6-1) got a big day from leading scorer Ron Harper Jr., who scored 20 points in the losing effort, and Montez Mathis chipped in with 16 points.
Winning the game was a constant grind all day for Ohio State, but things got off to a quick enough start as the Buckeyes connected on two of their first three possessions to take an early 5-0 lead. But as they would quickly find out, the Buckeyes were in for a long day against an active and energized Rutgers team on both ends of the floor.
Rutgers immediately responded with a 7-0 run, led by five points from Mathis, to take its first lead of the game at 7-5 just over four minutes into the opening period.
Young’s jumper momentarily tied the game again on the ensuing possession, but an 11-2 run by Rutgers following the score opened up the game for the Scarlet Knights midway through the first half. The scoring spurt included a trio of made three-pointers by Rutgers, continuing a hot first-half shooting performance in which it connected on six of its first 10 shots.
The Rutgers lead grew to as many as 13 points in the first half when Geo Baker’s jumper fell at the 7:54 mark, increasing the Scarlet Knights’ lead to 27-14.
Rutgers maintained the double-digit lead throughout the remaining seven minutes of the half, although Young’s layup on Ohio State’s final possession of the first half cut the Buckeyes’ deficit to 10 points at 38-28 as the two teams went into the locker room.
All things considered, Ohio State was fortunate to find itself down by just 10 points after a dismal offensive showing that saw it go just 11 of 30 from the field and 1 of 10 from three. The Buckeyes weren’t much better on the defensive end either as Rutgers rode a 54% shooting effort from three to the sizable halftime lead.
The second half got off to nearly an identical start for Ohio State as a bucket and a pair of free throws from Kyle Young had the Buckeyes quickly within six points of Rutgers just a minute into the period. But as it did earlier in the afternoon, Rutgers immediately responded with a 7-0 run, capped by a wide-open three from Harper Jr., to push the lead back to 13 points.
Unhappy with his team’s effort, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann burned an early timeout following the made three, but the pause did little to cool down Harper Jr.’s hot hand. Out of the timeout, Harper Jr. drilled his fourth three-pointer of the game, erupting the Rutgers bench and giving the Scarlet Knights their largest lead of the game at 48-32 with 15:38 remaining in the game.
In danger of being knocked out, and in desperate need of a hot hand of their own, Washington Jr. began to heat up for the Buckeyes. His three-pointer on the next possession stemmed the growing Rutgers tide, and he followed it up with two more over Ohio State’s next four possessions to cut the Rutgers lead to 10 with 12:43 remaining in the second period.
With Ohio State starting to find a rhythm on offense, Rutgers’ chances of staving off the Buckeyes’ charge were dealt a critical blow when 6-foot-11-inch center Myles Johnson, who had been making life miserable for the Buckeyes in the paint, picked up his fifth and final foul. Without the big man plugging up the paint, Ohio State began to attack the rim relentlessly, and with great success.
A three-point play by Musa Jallow had Ohio State within four points at 59-55 as the game ticked under eight minutes, and Liddell’s mid-range jumper cut the Rutgers lead to four on the Buckeyes’ following possession.
The onslaught continued for the Buckeyes with baskets from Young and Washington Jr. to tie the game up at 61 for the first time since the 15:30 mark of the first half. Following a technical foul assessed to the Rutgers bench on the next possession, Ohio State reclaimed the lead on a pair of free throws from Washington Jr., and it wouldn’t relinquish it.
Jallow’s emphatic fastbreak slam in the final seconds capped off a stunning 40-11 second-half run for Ohio State as it took its largest lead of the game at 78-64 and cruised to its seventh victory of the season.
“Heck of a win,” Holtmann said following the game. “We had to be really resilient. We put ourselves in some difficult binds, but give Rutgers credit for that … at the end of the day, players win games. Our guys responded. Duane’s big threes gave us some real momentum and cut the lead to where it was manageable. And then at that point, I thought we were better — much better — defensively.”
Ohio State returns to the floor on Saturday when the Buckeyes travel to take on the Northwestern Wildcats in Evanston, Illinois. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.