Hours after Gene Smith gave Thad Matta a vote of confidence, Ohio State fell on its face against the worst team in the Big Ten.
Due to an inability to keep Rutgers off the offensive glass and a horrific display at the free-throw line, the 11th-seeded Buckeyes bowed out to the 14th-seeded Scarlet Knights 66-57 in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday at the Verizon Center.
Nigel Johnson scored 21 points off the bench to lead Rutgers while Deshawn Freeman added 10 and grabbed eight rebounds before fouling out. It is the Scarlet Knights's first-ever Big Ten Tournament victory in what is their third year in the league.
A free throw by C.J. Gettys put Rutgers up by five with a little more than 1 minute remaining. Ohio State promptly turned it over on the ensuing possession and fouled Johnson, who made two free throws. Kam Williams brought the Buckeyes within four with three free throws after getting fouled on a shot from behind the arc.
Rutgers made enough free throws down the stretch to leave with a victory. Ohio State failed to connect a field goal over the final six minutes.
The Scarlet Knights corralled 19 offensive rebounds and turned them into 22 second-chance points. As a result, the Scarlet Knights attempted 17 more field goals than Ohio State. The Buckeyes went 15-of-28 from the line.
|18–45 (40%)||FGM-FGA (PCT.)||23–62 (37%)|
|6–20 (30%)||3PM-3PA (PCT.)||7–23 (30%)|
|15–28 (54%)||FTM-FTA (PCT.)||13–19 (68%)|
Rutgers started the second half on a 10-1 run, turning a 32-29 deficit into a six-point advantage in the frame's first 3 minutes. The Buckeyes didn't make their first field goal of the half until the 13:43 mark when Marc Loving's 3-pointer tied the game.
A back and forth affair ensued before the Scarlet Knights grabbed a six-point lead with 6 minutes remaining on a layup by Gettys. The Buckeyes never got closer than three the rest of the way.
Ohio State started quickly, scoring the game's first six points as Rutgers missed four straight shots. Jae'Sean Tate led the early onslaught for the Buckeyes, who jumped out to a 15-5 lead by starting 8-of-10 from the field.
The Scarlet Knights then switched to a 2-3 zone and Ohio State struggled to score. Rutgers roared back and used a 13-2 run to take a one-point lead with 9:16 left. Threes by C.J. Jackson and Williams plus a bucket from Tate late helped Ohio State take a 32-29 lead into the locker room. The Buckeyes shot 20 percent better from the field than Rutgers in the opening 20 minutes but the Scarlet Knights stayed close with 10 offensive rebounds and 12 second-chance points.
Tate led the Buckeyes with 18 points while Jackson finished with 12. In what could be his final game in an Ohio State uniform, Loving scored five points on 2-of-7 shooting in 36 minutes. The loss is just Ohio State's second ever under Matta in its first game of the Big Ten Tournament.
Ohio State now awaits its postseason fate. Rutgers advances to play sixth-seeded Northwestern on Thursday night.