Ohio State blows past No. 15 Rutgers in decisive Big Ten road win

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell shoots over Rutgers center Myles Johnson during the first half.
Guard Duane Washington Jr., reacting during the second half, led Ohio State with 17 points.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Gifted with front row seats, Dick Vitale and Jimmy Valvano looked on approvingly.

The two legendary college basketball coaches – or rather, their cardboard cutouts – sat underneath the basket that Ohio State shot on during the first half inside the Rutgers Athletic Center. And during the final minute before halftime, they had as good a view as anyone of a step-back, fadeaway three-pointer from Duane Washington Jr. that put the exclamation point on a big first half for the visiting Buckeyes.

Washington’s shot gave Ohio State a 12-point lead at the break, and in their first game without senior point guard CJ Walker the Buckeyes (9-3, 3-3 Big Ten) opened it up in the second half and went on to a 79-68 win to hand No. 15 Rutgers (7-4, 3-4) a third straight loss.

The win snaps a five-game Big Ten road losing streak for the Buckeyes and is their first conference road win against a ranked opponent since a 64-63 win at No. 3 Purdue on Feb. 7, 2018.

"It’s hard to win on the road, regardless of fans or no fans," forward Justice Sueing said. "For us to come in here and come out with a win was really big for us and shows some progression for our team and where we’re headed."

It might have come with a cost, though. Senior guard Jimmy Sotos, Walker's replacement in the starting lineup, went down in obvious pain with four minutes to play after a collision with Rutgers' Paul Mulcahy. Sotos was clutching his right shoulder and mouthed "it popped out" to the trainers, who had to escort him to the locker room.

Coach Chris Holtmann said that Sotos would undergo tests and be evaluated in the next few days but declined to discuss specifics. After the game, the two had a lengthy conversation near the locker room as Sotos draped his head in a white towel and Holtmann continuously patted him on the back.

"I thought he played really well," Holtmann said. "I thought he defended well. I thought he created offense … I thought Justice’s decision-making was good as well, but I thought Jimmy settled us in a lot of ways and was able to keep their guards in front."

Much like in the first meeting between the teams 17 days ago, the Buckeyes did it with a flurry of buckets. This time, it came to close the first half and not the second. The Scarlet Knights led 26-20, but Ohio State sophomore E.J. Liddell answered a corner three-pointer from Caleb McConnell with one of his own from the left wing with 7:29 to play to pull his team back within three.

It was all Ohio State from there to close the half. Liddell’s three, one possession after he hit two free throws, built momentum for an Ohio State offense that would score on seven straight possessions to take a 33-26 lead, and it would continue to grow. When Washington hit his three with 42 seconds to play, it gave the Buckeyes what would be a 42-30 halftime lead.

That amounted to a 22-4 run during the final 7:29. At Value City Arena against Rutgers, the Buckeyes overcame a 16-point deficit in the final 15:38 to win by 12, a 28-point swing.

Washington, Liddell and Kyle Young all had career-high scoring nights in that first game, scoring 22, 21 and 17 points, respectively. Saturday afternoon, they again led the way  as the Buckeyes would lead by as many as 22 points. 

Washington finished with a team-high 17 points, with Liddell (15), Young (13) and Justice Sueing (12) following behind.

More:BuckeyeXtra Basketball podcast | Penn State game was canceled, CJ Walker is out with hand injury, looking ahead to Rutgers

Freshman Meechie Johnson Jr. made his collegiate debut when he checked in at the 11:34 mark. He did not score. 

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy