Basketball Preview: Rutgers Rematch On Tap For Reeling Ohio State After Three Straight Losses

By Griffin Strom on January 15, 2023 at 8:35 am
Ohio State vs. Rutgers
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch

The first matchup ended in controversy.

Rutgers (12-5, 4-2 B1G) Rutgers Athletic Center 2:15 p.m. BTN

Ohio State’s Big Ten opener went down as a victory in the record books on Dec. 8, and a particularly memorable one at that, as Tanner Holden’s last-second heave from well beyond the 3-point line gave the Buckeyes a walk-off win at the buzzer in Columbus. But the very next night, the Big Ten issued a statement to explain that the shot shouldn’t have counted in the first place. Holden stepped out of bounds just before reestablishing his position on the court, and had the officiating team been following the letter of the law, play should have been stopped then and there.

The entire saga was sure to leave a bad taste in the mouths of the Scarlet Knights. They’ll have a chance to rectify that mistake on their own home floor on Sunday, when Rutgers hosts the reeling Buckeyes at 2:15 p.m. in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Ohio State and Rutgers’ paths have diverged considerably since the first meeting. The Buckeyes have lost four of their last seven games, including their last three contests in a row. The Scarlet Knights have gone 6-2 since losing to Ohio State and are inching closer to a spot in the AP Top 25.

A road game against a gritty Big Ten opponent that already pushed them to the brink won’t be an easy way for the Buckeyes to stop their current slide. However, to reverse course in the middle of the conference gauntlet, Ohio State has no choice but to put forth a better performance after falling to the worst team in the Big Ten at home just three nights ago.

Need to Know

Buckeye shooting slump

Two of Ohio State’s four worst shooting performances of the season have come in its last two games. The Buckeyes hit 43.6% of their shots against Maryland, which was only their third-worst percentage of the year, but their 34-point second half was particularly disappointing given that they got off to a slow start.

The Buckeyes were even worse on Thursday. Ohio State hit just 37.5% of its field goals to finish a game shooting under 40% for the first time all season. Brice Sensabaugh and Justice Sueing both had a lot to do with that as Ohio State’s two scoring leaders finished 10-for-31 from the floor combined. Against KenPom’s third-rated defense in the country on Sunday, the Buckeyes will need a better effort.

Could tie longest losing streak in two years

Ohio State’s three-game losing streak is already longer than any stretch it had last season. If the Buckeyes drop another on Sunday, they’ll tie the 2020-21 team for the longest skid in the program over the past three seasons. No Holtmann-led Ohio State team has ever lost five in a row, but if the Buckeyes lose again Sunday, it will be his fourth four-game losing streak in his six years in Columbus.

Hard to score on the Scarlet Knights

Rutgers possesses the best defense in the Big Ten and has one of the most elite defensive units in the nation as a whole. The Scarlet Knights are holding opponents to just 56.5 points per game, which is nearly three fewer than any other team in the conference and gives Rutgers the best average scoring margin in the Big Ten (14.6). The Scarlet Knights have allowed opponents to shoot just 37.5% from the field and 27.8% from 3-point range. Both of those marks lead the conference.

Ohio State shot well better than either of those marks in the first matchup with Rutgers, 46.4% from the floor and 42.1% from distance, but the Buckeyes have hardly put their best foot forward on offense in their last couple of appearances.

Three Important Buckeyes

Brice Sensabaugh

Despite leading the Buckeyes with 18 points and 10 rebounds and nearly willing his team to victory late, Sensabaugh had his worst shooting performance of the season (6-for-18) against Minnesota. Sensabaugh has now shot under 40% in each of Ohio State’s past two games, which is his first such streak of the season. The freshman was even benched to start the second half against Minnesota as his shot selection and defensive effort left something to be desired.

As Sensabaugh has established himself as Ohio State’s go-to scorer, the team feels it when he has an off night. A more efficient day for Sensabaugh against Rutgers would go a long way in getting the Buckeye offense back on track.

Justice Sueing

Sueing’s numbers are stellar in the past seven games. The sixth-year forward is averaging 15.9 points on 53.2% shooting with 5.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game during that stretch. Against Minnesota, though, Sueing’s 4-for-13 shooting performance and a key defensive lapse late helped the Gophers steal a win in Columbus. Couple that with Sueing’s late turnover against Purdue, and the Buckeye captain has been at the center of multiple key moments in Ohio State’s recent skid.

Zed Key

Key returned from injury after missing most of the previous two games to log 30 minutes against Minnesota, which was more than many – including Chris Holtmann – expected. The Buckeye coach said after the loss he thought it was a mistake playing Key so much due to the lack of continuity in the lineup, presumably after the practice time Key missed in the leadup to the game, and Gopher big man Dawson Garcia wound up scoring 28 points on the night. Key and company face another one of the Big Ten’s top bigs this weekend in 6-foot-11 big man Clifford Omoruyi.

Three Important Scarlet Knights

Clifford Omoruyi

The aforementioned Omoruyi has seen a dip in production since the last meeting with the Buckeyes, averaging just 10.6 points on 44.9% shooting in the eight games since, but he’s still one of just two players in the conference averaging a double-double (along with Purdue’s Zach Edey). The athletic center dropped 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting against Ohio State on Dec. 8. Despite failing to hit double-digit scoring numbers in each of his past three performances, Omoruyi will be a player to watch against the Buckeyes.

Player Position Height Weight  Season Stats
CAM SPENCER G 6-4 205 13.5 PPG, 3.6 APG
PAUL MULCAHY G 6-6 210 8.8 PPG, 4.2 APG
MAWOT MAG F 6-7 215 7.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG
CLIFFORD OMORUYI C 6-11 240 13.2 PPG, 10 RPG

Cam Spencer

Rutgers’ scoring leader through 17 games, Spencer’s averaging 13.5 points and is second among Scarlet Knights with his average of 3.6 assists per game. Spencer scored 11 points against the Buckeyes the first time around, but he’s been particularly effective in the last five games, where he’s averaging 16 points per on 63.3% from 3-point range. Spencer is coming off a season-high 23-point performance against Northwestern in which he hit six of his seven 3-point attempts.

Caleb McConnell

The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year helped limit Sensabaugh and Sueing to a combined 22 points on 9-for-23 shooting in the first matchup, and he’s hit double-digit point totals in four of his past seven performances as well. If Ohio State has another bad day on offense, it’s safe to say McConnell will be a big reason why.

How it Plays Out

Line: Rutgers -4, O/U: 135

Ohio State barely got by Rutgers the first time at home, and now playing the Scarlet Knights on the back of a three-game losing streak in what Holtmann calls one of the nation’s loudest environments, I smell trouble for the Buckeyes on Sunday.

Prediction: Rutgers 69, Ohio State 67

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