Notebook: Duane Washington, Ohio State stage massive comeback win against Rutgers
There’s a patented play Ohio State has run since Chris Holtmann took over the program, and it’s typically good for at least one highlight-worthy basket per game. The play involves a weakside baseline cut, typically performed by Kyle Young, that leads to an alley-oop dunk or, occasionally layup.
It’s been harder to come by this season for the Ohio State senior, whose offensive game has struggled at a new level with opposing defenses no longer keying in on Kaleb Wesson. And with 15:52 to play in Wednesday evening’s game against No. 11 Rutgers at Value City Arena, the Buckeyes dialed it up in search of a spark.
CJ Walker’s pass sailed a bit too high, Young was covered anyway and it resulted in a turnover that took the teams to the under-16 media timeout with the Scarlet Knights on a 7-0 run and ahead, 45-32.
Things were not going well. And they would get worse out of the timeout when Ron Harper Jr., who seemed to be playing in his own backyard, hit a three-pointer that touched every part of the rim before falling to push the Ohio State deficit to a game-high 16 points.
The Ohio State seniors would try the play again, and when Young successfully connected off the Walker pass with less than four minutes to play, it pushed Ohio State’s lead to 67-61 and provided one of many exclamation points in what would be a 42-15 run that closed the game and gave the Buckeyes an 80-68 comeback win against the visiting Scarlet Knights.
“(A) 42-15 run, that’s good basketball,” junior guard Duane Washington Jr., who led the Buckeyes with a career-high 22 points, said. “That’s what we pride ourselves on. During the second half we had to come out down 10 and stick to it, play Buckeye basketball and keep grinding. It’s how Big Ten games work. We’ve got a lot of older guys who have been in this moment a lot. Basketball’s a game of runs and we made our run and came out with the dub.”
The comeback was as methodical as it was stunning and thorough. Trailing 50-35, Washington Jr. hit a three-pointer to pull within 12 points. It started a sequence where the Buckeyes scored on 10 straight possessions, pulling within four points in the process.
After scoring 28 points through the first 20 minutes, Ohio State had 52 after halftime while shooting 57.1% (16 for 28) from the floor.
The Buckeyes were able to do it by getting the ball in the paint and scoring against a depleted Rutgers frontcourt. The Scarlet Knights were without freshman center Cliff Omoruyi due to injury, and 6-11, 255-pound starter Myles Johnson (more on him later) was hampered by foul trouble before fouling out with 8:44 to play. Junior Mamadou Doucoure, a 6-9, 250-pound forward, finished with four fouls.
It allowed Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell and Young to both post career-high scoring nights. Liddell finished with 21 points and was 8 for 12 from two-point range while Young had 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting and added a career-high 12 rebounds for his first double-double of the season.
“We were told to attack their bigs,” Liddell said. “They were down a big (Omoruyi). Both teams, we like getting to the paint a lot. We felt like whoever scored more paint points and got more offensive rebounds and rebounds in general would win the game.”
Ohio State finished with a 38-20 advantage in points in the paint, outrebounded Rutgers 45-25 and had a 12-4 edge on the offensive glass.
It’s the second time this season that the Buckeyes have overcome a double-digit second-half deficit against a high-major team and won this season. On December 8, Ohio State trailed Notre Dame by 11 on the road and came back for a 90-85 victory.
This time, the game was at home but it came against a Rutgers team that had just defeated Big Ten title favorite Illinois.
“There’s a resolve, a maturity, a commitment to how you want to play and I thought we stayed really committed to how we wanted to play,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “There’s a poise we didn’t necessarily play with at Purdue. You’ve got to have good players who can finish the game and make plays. Our group has shown a resolve and a poise necessary and it’s good to see.
“Really unique game. One of the more unique games I’ve been a part of in terms of the ebb and flow of the game.”
Saturday, Harvard graduate transfer Seth Towns played his first game in 1,014 days when he got in for about two minutes during the first half of a win against UCLA in Cleveland.
He missed a three-pointer but otherwise didn’t impact the game other than simply being present and taking his first step toward full recovery from the knee injuries that have kept him out of the lineup for the last two full seasons.
Wednesday, he subbed in with 13:36 to play and Rutgers leading 52-38. Shortly thereafter, he rebounded a Washington missed three-pointer and scored his first points in 1,018 days. And roughly three minutes later, he rebounded a CJ Walker miss and laid it in to pull Ohio State within 55-49.
He would finish with those four points and add four rebounds in six minutes of playing time. It’s another step on his journey back to being the player he was pre-injury.
“I thought he played hard and competed,” Holtmann said. “Defensively he’s got to get better and we had to sub out because they were attacking off the dribble a little bit. He really competed, which is what we’ve seen Seth do, is compete. He’s going to shoot the ball really well. He kept balls alive. He competed on both ends. Thought he did a tremendous job.
“You’re talking about a young man who continues to be on the scout team until he can shake some rust off, but really happy for him, his first points as a buckeye in a game where we really needed it.”
Liddell said he was glad to see Towns record some statistics because the sophomore felt he owed him something.
“Seth coming in the game was huge,” he said. “Against UCLA I kind of took his offensive rebound because I got an offensive foul. He told me thank you after this one because I kind of tipped it to him. Shout-out to Seth.”
As is often the case in a game with such drastic swings, emotions had an impact both during and after the game for Rutgers.
Washington had just pulled Ohio State even at 61 with a runner from the right baseline with 4:54 to play, and after Geo Baker missed a shot at the other end the Buckeyes were bringing the ball up the court when play was stopped and the Rutgers coaching staff was given a technical foul.
Washington, a 95.2% free-throw shooter entering the game, hit the ensuing free throws to give the Buckeyes the lead with 4:25 to play. It was the first time they had led since the held a 5-4 lead in the opening minutes, and then Liddell hit a jumper to make it a two-possession game.
Rutgers would get no closer. Pikiell took the blame for the technical and claimed fault for the whistle.
“I have to do a better job,” he said. “That's it. I have to do a better job with the officials. They're great. They do a great job.”
Holtmann said he didn’t know what the issue was.
“It was a Big Ten game,” he said. “I’ve got a ton of respect for Rutgers. I thought the game was officiated with a really quality group that didn’t necessarily in either one’s direction get every call right, and I didn’t make every call right from the bench. It was a great officiating crew. It was a Big Ten game.”
Ohio State was called for 20 fouls. Rutgers was called for 22. The Buckeyes were 22 for 29 (75.9%) from the line; the Scarlet Knights were 10 for 17 (58.8%). Ohio State ranks 19th nationally in percentage of points scored from the line (25.2%).
The intrigue didn’t end there. In a pair of since-deleted tweets, starting Rutgers center Myles Johnson questioned the officiating and the validity of the final result after fouling out having scored two points in 15 minutes.
The first one read, “There gotta be 3 big cash outs in the gambling world tonight cuz there is no way.” It was followed by emojis of a trash can and a zebra.
Then, a moment later, he tweeted about the pending rematch between the two teams at the Rutgers Athletic Center: “17 days at the RAC no cheating (expletive)” Ohio State plays at Rutgers on January 9.
“I’ve long since the season started not paid attention to Twitter, so I have no idea what that’s about,” Holtmann said. “I’m not sure exactly what the technical was about. I have no idea.”
“Buckeye Nation knows I’m a pretty confident guy. I’m always going to be confident and look for my shot. It’s what I’ve been good at. Today is expected. I expect to make every shot that I take, every look that I get.” – Washington, on his mentality after missing a few shots
“I talk to Kyle all the time. We talk about keeping our confidence levels up. He wants me to be honest with him anytime I see him doing something that isn’t confident. He told me whenever he shoots a three he doesn’t look confident and he hesitates. Me and him feeding off each other is really good and I feel like this bond is going to keep growing for the rest of the year.” – Liddell on his relationship with Young.