A major letdown against the worst team in the Big Ten would have been a noticeable black eye on an otherwise inconsistent season for Ohio State. But Kam Williams helped the Buckeyes avoid disaster against Rutgers.
Thad Matta's club kept the Scarlet Knights at arm's length for most of the game on Wednesday night before lurching to a 70-64 win at Value City Arena.
A tip-in by Issa Thiam tied it at 62 with 1:19 remaining. Williams connected on a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession while getting fouled. His four-point play put the Buckeyes out front for good. Free throws by Marc Loving and C.J. Jackson in the final 30 seconds sealed it.
Williams led Ohio State (15-10, 5-7 Big Ten) and tied a career-high with 23 points while Trevor Thompson added 15 to go with 12 rebounds. Their efforts helped the Buckeyes withstand a scrappy effort from Rutgers in the final 20 minutes.
|23–50 (46%)||FGM-FGA (PCT.)||25–63 (40%)|
|5–12 (42%)||3PM-3PA (PCT.)||4–17 (24%)|
|19–25 (76%)||FTM-FTA (PCT.)||10–18 (56%)|
Trailing by as many as 12 in the second half, the Scarlet Knights quickly cut the lead to four. Corey Sanders's and-one in the lane made it 49-48 Buckeyes with 10:13 left. Mike Williams's jumper a minute later tied it.
But even though they tied it twice in the final 20 minutes, the Scarlet Knights never could get over the hump and back out front before the final horn. Their largest lead was 8-7 at the 15:42 mark of the first half.
Williams scored six points on back-to-back Ohio State possessions before Rutgers saw its leading scorer, Sanders, foul out on a charge at the other end with 4:49 left. Sanders led Rutgers (13-12, 2-10) with 17 points. Mike Williams added 11, while Thiam and Deshawn Freeman had 10 apiece.
Jae'Sean Tate was the only other Buckeye in double figures with 11 points, all in the first half. He missed two free throws with 37 seconds left and Ohio State up four to leave the door slightly cracked. But Rutgers missed too many shots in the final minute.
Despite only scoring four points in the final 4 minutes of the first half, Ohio State led 33-27 at intermission. A 13-4 run capped by a tip-dunk by Micah Potter gave the Buckeyes an 11-point lead near the 6-minute mark but Rutgers crawled its way back within striking distance before the horn.
Ohio State made all five of its free throws in the opening 20 minutes. Tate and Thompson combined for 19 points and made 7-of-9 field goals. The Buckeyes turned the ball over nine times in the first 20 minutes but held a 20-12 effort on the glass which led to 10 second-chance points.
The victory is Ohio State's second straight in conference play, which has now only happened twice this season.
Ohio State visits No. 21 Maryland on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m.