The momentum and positive national image achieved by No. 15 Rutgers’ best Big Ten start will take another hit if the Scarlet Knights can’t find a way to defeat visiting Ohio State on Saturday afternoon in Piscataway, N.J.
Rutgers (7-3, 3-3 Big Ten) won its first two conference games for the first time since joining the Big Ten in 2014, but is 1-3 since with two straight losses, including a 68-45 setback at No. 23 Michigan State on Tuesday.
“Just disappointing,” Scarlet Knights coach Steve Pikiell said. “They outplayed us in every area. We’ve got to make sure we bounce back. You’ve got to have short memories because we’re playing teams coming up that are really good too.”
The Buckeyes (8-3, 2-3) are also coming off a resounding loss — 77-60 at Minnesota on Sunday.
It got worse for the Buckeyes when coach Chris Holtmann announced Thursday that starting point guard C.J. Walker will be out indefinitely with torn ligaments in his right hand. Walker is averaging 8.7 points and 4.2 assists in 11 games. He was injured during the first preseason scrimmage and it got progressively worse.
“I think, unfortunately, it’s gotten to the point to where it’s gotten increasingly more uncomfortable for him and affected his play,” Holtmann said. “I give him a ton of credit for battling through it.
“I hate it for the young man. He’s really in a lot of ways the heart and soul of our team along with (senior center) Kyle (Young).”
Ohio State hoped home court would have gotten it back on track Wednesday against Penn State but the game was postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the Nittany Lions’ program.
The Buckeyes have lost all three of its conference road games but are 2-0 at home, including 80-68 against Rutgers on Dec. 23 in a game Holtmann called “unique.”
Trailing by 16 points in the second half, the Buckeyes rallied and took the lead, 63-61, with 4:25 remaining on a pair of free throws by Duane Washington Jr. after a technical was called on the Rutgers’ bench, which was irate after several foul calls on its big men.
“This is a terrific Rutgers team, extremely well coached,” Holtmann said. “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.”
The Scarlet Knights are looking for revenge but to do so they will they need to hit the boards. As was the case against Ohio State, Rutgers was outrebounded by an identical 45-25 margin by Michigan State.
“We did get beat like that against Ohio State so it’s become two times now for us,” Pikiell said “We missed a ton of shots so we had a lot of opportunities to rebound but we didn’t. It’s an issue. We’ve got to get better at it and we will. You’ve got to battle in this league. This is what this league is but you get what you deserve in basketball.”
–Field Level Media