Following losses to Penn State and Michigan, it was clear that Ohio State's guards were going to need to step up their play on both ends of the floor for the Buckeyes to get back into the win column Tuesday.
It became even more imperative they did so as Keita Bates-Diop continued throughout the night to struggle with his shot, finishing with a season-low six points. After scoring just seven points against Michigan on Sunday, the Ohio State backcourt responded in a big way against Rutgers.
Kam Williams, starting for the first time since returning from suspension, scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half, while C.J. Jackson exploded for 16 of his 18 points in the second half, leading to a 79-52 win for Ohio State on Senior Day.
Jackson's production came off the bench, as Andrew Dakich earned his first collegiate start on Senior Day, playing in his final home game as a Buckeye. Dakich contributed two points, two rebounds and two assists in the win, and gave credit to Jackson for not only his performance, but for his willingness to come off the bench.
"We had a conversation earlier in the day about how our guard play needs to step up, get out swagger back is what we called it," Dakich said. "We felt like we hurt us the other night. To see his confidence rise and my contributions as well, it was just good to see."
Combined, the Ohio State trio scored 33 points, corralled seven rebounds and dished out four assists in the victory, a far cry from the performance against the Wolverines.
While the Scarlet Knights were without freshman guard and third leading scorer Geo Baker, Ohio State's backcourt flourished Tuesday and picked up the scoring as Bates-Diop struggled to find the bottom of the net. The redshirt junior said after the game that Tuesday's performance proves the Buckeyes can still be successful even when his shot isn't falling.
"This isn't a one-man team. I don't have to score 20. I had a really long stretch in the Big Ten where I was scoring a lot of points, but we have won games where I scored 10 points and obviously we won a game (tonight) where I had six," Bates-Diop said. "This is a good team, and if I am not hitting shots and everybody else is, that is all I care about, is winning. I don't care about getting mine."
Even though his shot wasn't connecting Tuesday, head coach Chris Holtmann said Bates-Diop's presence on the floor helped open driving lanes for Jackson, in particular, who scored 12 of his 18 points in or near the paint.
"It's a byproduct in some cases of the attention Keita is getting. They don't leave his body. They don't help off of him. The gap is going to be bigger because they are so tight on Keita," Holtmann said. "I thought our guys made some good plays in transition. C.J. obviously had a couple of really nice floaters, and he has to continue to drive and spray it. We want to continue to do that."
Holtmann, who started Dakich strictly because of Senior Day festivities, said he felt it was important to start all of the Buckeye veterans together Tuesday night, citing advice a former coaching friend gave him. He felt that the play of Jackson off the bench, and Ohio State's guards in general, was improved in part because of simply making their first few shots. Dakich made his first shot attempt of the game, while Williams connected on his first two three-point attempts.
"Our guys just seeing the ball go in a little bit. Young people today, sometimes they have a hard time recovering from tough stretches in a game, and just to see the ball go in was good for them," Holtmann said. "That is something we need to get better at, too. Guys need to play through the ups and downs of a game a little bit better. But I thought C.J. responded in the second half and gave us a major, major lift when we needed it. That is part of the reason I started him (in the second half) because I felt we needed that from him."