Basketball Preview: Ohio State Meets Rutgers In Spicy Rematch With “No Cheating Shit” Allowed

By Colin Hass-Hill on January 9, 2021 at 7:05 am
Kyle Young
Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The first rule of Twitter is to never tweet. Myles Johnson learned the hard way.

Barely 10 minutes after the final whistles blew, ending Ohio State’s 80-68 win against Rutgers at the Schottenstein Center on Dec. 23, the Scarlet Knights big man who had fouled out of the game with 8:44 remaining fired off a pair of tweets that he shortly deleted.

“There gotta be 3 big cash outs in the gambling world tonight cuz there is no way,” he wrote.

Who Where When TV
Rutgers (7-3, 303) Piscataway, New Jersey (Rutgers Athletic Center) 12 p.m. BTN

One minute later…

“17 days at the RAC no cheating shit.”

Well, 17 days have passed. 

The unranked Buckeyes and No. 15 Scarlet Knights are set to meet at noon Saturday at the Rutgers Athletic Center in what has the potential to be a spicy rematch of their mid-December showdown in Columbus. Johnson will start at center for Rutgers in a matchup with, as he declared, “no cheating shit” allowed.

“This is a terrific Rutgers team,” head coach Chris Holtmann said on Thursday. “Extremely well-coached. Really one of my favorite teams to watch in the Big Ten because of how they compete and how they play, how connected they are. Just tremendous respect for them, for Steve as a coach and for the way in which those guys compete and battle.”

Prior to the two Big Ten compadres meeting two-and-a-half weeks ago, they were a combined 12-1 with both teams coming off of wins versus high-major competition. Since then, they’ve both started to backslide a bit.

Ohio State – which will be without starting point guard CJ Walker who has torn ligaments in his right hand – and Rutgers are each 1-2 in their three games since facing each other early in league play. The Buckeyes dropped out the Associated Press top-25 by losing to Northwestern and Minnesota with a home blowout of Nebraska sandwiched between them. The Scarlet Knights bounced back from the Ohio State loss by beating Purdue at home but subsequently lost to Iowa in Piscataway and Michigan State in East Lansing.

“I think a lot of us, you go from one game to the next kind of angry because of the previous game because of how good the league is,” Holtmann said. “We know they're going to be a highly, highly motivated group and we'll need to play really well against a terrific Rutgers team that's extremely well-coached.”

Three Things To Watch

Jacob Young vs...who?

Ohio State only has to look four games into the rearview mirror to remind itself of the impact Jacob Young can have on a game. He recorded 12 points and five assists, drawing a game-high eight fouls and proving himself to be a matchup problem for the Buckeyes. This week, Holtmann described the 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior guard as one of the Big Ten’s most explosive players.

So, how will Ohio State counter him? A mishmosh of players.

Walker played 35 minutes at point guard the last time these teams met, tallying two points (0-for-6), five assists and four turnovers. He, of course, will be unavailable for a second shot at Young as he rehabs his right hand. Thus, the Buckeyes are expected to turn to Jimmy Sotos, Justice Sueing and Duane Washington Jr. as primary ball-handlers. 

Sotos, a former Bucknell graduate transfer, is playing just 7.9 minutes per game yet could start on Saturday afternoon. Even if he comes off the bench, it’s fair to expect him to eclipse his previous season-high of 14 minutes. Sueing has battled inconsistency and turnovers as he adjusts to the physicality of the Big Ten, but he’s another option, per Holtmann. Washington, who carries a low 14.2 percent turnover rate, could have the ball in his hands more as well. 

Of course, defending Young – who’s averaging 15.2 points per game – will be as important as anything.

Does Ron Harper Jr. Get Hot?

Of late, Ron Harper Jr. has slowed down a bit, putting up a season-low 13 points in the recent losses to Iowa and Michigan State. Still, the potential All-American is capable of going off in a big way.

Harper, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound guard, leads Rutgers with 21.1 points per game, shooting 52.6 percent from the field and 46.8 percent from 3-point range while getting to the foul line for 3.2 free-throws a contest. In four of his nine games this season, he has topped 25 points. Against the Buckeyes, he managed 20 points, though he scored that much while putting up a season-high 20 shots.

The Harper-Musa Jallow matchup will be a fun one to watch. Harper was cooking early in the December matchup, but Jallow kept him in check to help complete a double-digit-point second-half comeback by holding him scoreless for the final 10 minutes with six straight missed shots.

Matchup In The Middle

Johnson certainly thought his presence would have altered the outcome of these teams’ first meeting, and it’s hard to deny that him leaving the game had a notable impact on what subsequently transpired. But would it really have swung it? The 6-foot-11, 255-pound junior will want to prove that to be the case on Saturday.

With freshman Cliff Omoruyi still out of commission due to a knee sprain, Johnson will once again get the start and play the majority of minutes down low versus Kyle Young, E.J. Liddell and Zed Key.

Johnson’s averaging 7.4 points and 8.5 rebounds in 23.6 minutes per game this season with much of his impact coming on the defensive end of the court. Rutgers relies on him as a rim protector, putting his long wingspan to work with 2.2 blocks per outing.

“They have a terrific big man,” Holtmann said of Johnson. “He really is a really good player. And he got in foul trouble here, and obviously much was made of that. But he's smart. He's big. He's talented. And he's older, so he's experienced. So we'll need to play well against his size.”

Prediction: Rutgers 73, Ohio State 67

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