Whether it marks progress from a satisfying win Saturday at Michigan was a matter for debate, but entering the stretch run of Big Ten play, Ohio State will take its victories where it can find them.
On Wednesday night in front of a sleepy crowd of 11,077 at Value City Arena, the Buckeyes found a second consecutive conference win at the expense of Rutgers. Kam Williams led the way with 23 points, tying a career high, and the Buckeyes scrapped out a 70-64 win.
In getting there, the Buckeyes (15-10, 4-7) led by as many as 12 points early in the second half but still had to sweat it out down the stretch against the Big Ten’s worst team for three years running.
“We didn’t play at the level I wanted us to play at,” coach Thad Matta said. “Did some good things, but it wasn’t all the way through the game at the level I was hoping we’d play at.”
With Ohio State ahead 41-29 moments into the second half, Rutgers (13-12, 2-10) used a 21-9 run to tie the score at 50 with 9:31 to play but lost its primary playmaker when Jae’Sean Tate took a charge by Corey Sanders with 4:49 to play. The Scarlet Knights trailed 62-57 but tied the score at 62 with 1:19 to play.
It was then that Williams “put the final nail in our coffin,” as Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell put it.
Coming off a Trevor Thompson screen on the right block, Williams took a pass from Tate and launched a three-pointer as Rutgers' Mike Williams took out his legs. The shot swished through the net, and after Kam Williams hit the free throw with 1:05 left Rutgers never again had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead.
The four-point play capped a stretch of 10 straight Ohio State points for Williams, who came in scoring 9.3 points per Big Ten game.
“It felt good,” Williams said of his performance. “Good execution team-wise and I was making good shots, and my teammates were setting great screens for me so I thank them for that.”
After having lost its first 23 Big Ten road games, Rutgers was coming off a win Saturday at Penn State and seeking its first wins in consecutive conference road games since February 1991, when it was a member of the Atlantic 10. Ohio State has won consecutive conference games for the second time this year.
Matta went with C.J. Jackson instead of JaQuan Lyle as his starting point guard for a second straight game as Lyle dealt with a nagging ankle injury. Senior forward Marc Loving also missed much of the first half after a collision required five stitches above his left eye.
“We need to get as close to 100 percent as we possibly can, but it’s sort of that time of the year,” Matta said. “I think even the managers had ice on them after the game, but to look ahead or look behind with this group is not good.”