After proving comeback mettle against Rutgers, Ohio State heads to Northwestern

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra

The patented play didn’t work the first time.

With 15:52 to play in Wednesday's game against No. 11 Rutgers at Value City Arena, the No. 23 Buckeyes dialed up a backdoor lob for Kyle Young in search of an offensive spark. Instead of a highlight-worthy dunk, CJ Walker’s pass to a covered Young sailed high and out of bounds.

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And things would get worse out of the ensuing timeout when Rutgers’ Ron Harper Jr. 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.

Ohio State's E.J. Liddell goes up against Rutgers' Mamadou Doucoure for two of his career-high 21 points on Wednesday.

The Buckeyes would try the lob again, though, and when Walker connected with Young on the alley-oop slam 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 Scarlet Knights.

“Really unique game,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “One of the more unique games I’ve been a part of in terms of the ebb and flow of the game.”

The comeback was as methodical as it was stunning and thorough. With Ohio State trailing 50-35, junior guard Duane Washington Jr. hit a three-pointer to tighten the deficit to 12 points. That started a sequence in which 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.

“(A) 42-15 run, that’s good basketball,” said Washington, who led the Buckeyes with a career-high 22 points. “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.”

Ohio State Buckeyes forward E.J. Liddell (32) is guarded by Rutgers Scarlet Knights center Myles Johnson (15) during the first half of Wednesday's NCAA Division I basketball game at Value City Arena in Columbus, Oh. on December 23, 2020. Rutgers led 38-28 at halftime.

The Buckeyes were able to get the ball in the paint and score against a depleted Rutgers frontcourt. The Scarlet Knights were without freshman center Cliff Omoruyi due to injury, and 6-foot-11, 255-pound starter Myles Johnson 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.

Issues with Rutgers' big men 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.”

After dispatching a Rutgers team that had just beaten Big Ten title contender Illinois in its last game, the Buckeyes visit a Northwestern team that soundly beat Michigan State on Sunday and then won at Indiana about four hours after Ohio State beat the Scarlet Knights.

The last time the Buckeyes were on the road, they fell behind at Purdue and were never able to mount a comeback. The Rutgers win marked the second time Ohio State had overcome a double-digit, second-half deficit, topping an 11-point comeback at Notre Dame on Dec. 8.

“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,” Holtmann said of the Rutgers game “Our group has shown a resolve and a poise necessary, and it’s good to see.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

Next game

Ohio State at Northwestern

When: 2 p.m. today

TV: Fox Sports One

Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1, 1460)