The final seconds were ticking down at Value City Arena and C.J. Jackson threw a purposeful last pass. The Ohio State senior guard lobbed the ball from the left wing to the right corner, where sophomore center Kaleb Wesson was alone in front of the Buckeyes bench.
The big man squeezed the ball, looked up and smiled for the final six seconds before being embraced by his teammates. After a January that was rude to the Buckeyes and downright brutal at times on Wesson, his 27 points on 10-of-12 shooting had powered a 76-62 win over a Rutgers team that had won three straight games.
During those final seconds, all the recent struggles flashed through Wesson’s mind.
“It’s been a tough stretch of games,” he said. “I haven’t been scoring a lot. It just felt good to let the ball go in the rim and my teammates finding me.”
Wesson did the heavy lifting early for the Buckeyes (14-7, 4-6 Big Ten), who never trailed in the final 33:38 of the game in avenging a Jan. 9 loss at Rutgers (11-10, 4-7). He scored Ohio State’s first 12 points, 17 of the first 20 and either scored or assisted on the first 29 points of the game for the Buckeyes.
It wasn’t until a Jackson three-pointer with 4:12 left in the first half that Wesson didn’t directly impact a field goal, and that jumper gave Ohio State a 32-22 lead.
As a team, Rutgers wasn’t collectively outscoring Wesson until a 7-0 run pulled it within 22-18 and prompted the Buckeyes to call timeout. That run gave the Scarlet Knights one more point than the sophomore, but he scored on a post feed from older brother Andre and assisted on a three by Keyshawn Woods and a basket by his brother to help settle the Buckeyes.
Rutgers got no closer than six points the rest of the way.
“The game today was a complete game for us in a lot of ways,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “I was really proud of our older guys and now I’m including our sophomores. Obviously, Kaleb gave us a great lift there offensively.”
Jackson took over in the second half, scoring 17 of his 20 points as the Buckeyes shot 60.9 percent after halftime. Freshman and New Jersey native Luther Muhammad added 12 points, while graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods had his most impactful game in weeks with 11 points, four rebounds, three assists and no turnovers.
After committing 19 turnovers Tuesday in a loss at Michigan, Ohio State had only six against Rutgers and outscored the Knights 22-6 in points off of turnovers.
“We just wanted to stay aggressive, come out and finish the 40 minutes like we always talk about,” Jackson said. “I looked to be a little more aggressive in the second half than the first half.”
The win snapped Rutgers’ longest winning streak since joining the Big Ten for the 2014-15 season. The Scarlet Knights already have four Big Ten wins this season after totaling only nine during their first four seasons in the conference.