Buckeyes Collapse Late, Fall to Rutgers
Rutgers outscored Ohio State 10-0 in the last 3 plus minutes to come from 8 down to knock off the 16th ranked Buckeyes 66-64 in Piscataway. With Ohio State leading 64-56 with just over 3 minutes to go, Rutgers took advantage of a stagnant Buckeye offense, content to use clock instead of running their offense and utilizing a pair of Ohio State miscues, the Scarlet Knights came storming back to send Ohio State back to Columbus with a painful road loss. The loss dropped Ohio State to 14-6 on the season and 7-4 in Big Ten play, all but taking them out of the conference race, while Rutgers improved to 14-9 and 8-5 in the conference. Malaki Branham led Ohio State with 19 points, while E.J. Liddell added 16 and 6 rebounds and Zed Key had a double-double, scoring 10 and adding 12 boards. Rutgers was led by a game high 25 by Geo Baker, including the game winning free throws with just under 20 seconds to play.
The Scarlet Knights got off to a fast start and led 7-5 in the early minutes with the Buckeye scores coming from Zed Key on the right baseline and a Malaki Branham triple from the right wing. The Buckeyes took their first lead when E.J. Liddell was fouled as he rattled down a 12 footer and subsequently completed the three point play after he knocked down the free throw. Ohio State extended the lead when Meechie Johnson drilled a three from the right corner as the Buckeyes executed a two man game with Johnson and Branham and at the first media timeout, Ohio State led 11-7. Rutgers regained the lead, scoring the next 7, including a pair of threes, before the Buckeyes tied the score after a Key bucket and a Liddell free throw. A Rutgers score put the Scarlet Knights back in front, but Justin Ahrens took an interior pass, and after a pump fake and one dribble to his right, buried a three from the right wing and at the under 12 minute media timeout, the Buckeyes led 17-16. The Buckeyes extended their lead to three when Branham hit a runner off the bounce along the right of the paint but four straight Scarlet Knights points put Rutgers back in front at the under 8 media timeout, 20-19. Rutgers increased the lead to four with a triple before a Liddell fade on the left baseline stopped the Rutgers 7-0 run. The Buckeyes took another lead when Cedric Russell drilled a three from the left wing but Rutgers used the entire shot clock before hitting a baseline jumper to go back ahead. The back and forth game continued as the Buckeyes regained the lead when Branham went hard for an offensive rebound and after a bounce went up with power in the middle of the lane for a score amongst the trees but Rutgers once again answered, hitting a jumper from the left wing and at the final media timeout of the half, Rutgers held a 27-26 advantage. Ohio State went back in front when Liddell scored off an offensive rebound but a Rutgers free throw tied it. A Key bucket put Ohio State back in front for a moment and Rutgers once again tied it with a dunk. A Branham free throw put Ohio State back in front a point in the waning seconds but a Rutgers fade away jumper fell just before the horn and at the half, Rutgers led Ohio State 32-31. In a back and forth first half that featured 10 lead changes and 7 ties, Rutgers shot 50% from the floor, including 4 of 9 from long range, while the Buckeyes hit 43% from the floor and 4 of 11 from beyond the arc. E.J. Liddell and Malaki Branham led the Buckeyes with 8 each at the break, while Rutgers was led by Geo Baker who had a game high 11.
The Buckeyes opened the second half with a 6-2 surge to go ahead by 3, thanks to triples by Liddell and Branham, but a 4-0 Rutgers run put the Knights back on top. A pair of Jamari Wheeler free throws put Ohio State back ahead at the under 16 media timeout 39-38. Liddell split a pair of Liddell free throws out of the timeout and extended the Buckeye lead to a pair, but a pair of Rutgers freebies re-tied the game. A Liddell bucket and a Rutgers score kept the game tied before Wheeler buried a triple from the left corner to put Ohio State up three. After a Rutgers hoop cut the lead to one, Branham hit a triple from the right wing putting the Buckeyes up four. After Rutgers cut it to two with a baseline J, Branham got into the lane off the bounce and scored right of the rim. Back came Rutgers after Ohio State got lost defensively early in the possession, Rutgers made them pay with a triple to cut the lead to one and at the under 12 minute media timeout, Ohio State clung to a 50-49 lead. Rutgers regained the lead after an old-fashioned three point play, but a Key tip in tied it once again. The Buckeyes went back ahead when Branham buried a triple from the right point and extended the lead when Liddell stuck a 12 footer. Rutgers stopped the 7-0 Buckeye run when Johnson fell to the floor with an ankle issue which opened up a driving lane and led to a Scarlet Knight dunk. The injury led to the 8 minute timeout with Ohio State leading 57-54. The Buckeyes went up six when Wheeler banged down a three from the left wing off a cross court feed from Liddell and after several empty possessions each way, Rutgers scored in transition and called a quick timeout with Ohio State leading 60-56 and just over 5 minutes remaining in the game. Out of the timeout, Liddell found Young at the rim for a score to put the Buckeyes back up 6. Key put Ohio State up 8, draining a pair of free throws, but a pair of Rutgers free throws trimmed the deficit back to 6 with 3 minutes to play. After a Buckeye miss, Rutgers sped to the rim and scored to get within four and called timeout with 2:33 to play and Ohio State leading 64-60. The Buckeyes got a break out off the inbounds but Branham’s shot at the rim was blocked from behind and on the other end a Rutgers jumper fell cutting the lead to just two. The Buckeye collapse continued as a half court shot clock violation led to a turnover and put the ball back in Rutgers hands with just 1:27 remaining. Rutgers got a point blank dunk to tie the game and Ohio State called a timeout with 1:02 to go as Rutgers was on a 8-0 run to tie the game. Another Buckeye miss, 9th miss in the last 10 attempts and Rutgers took advantage, hitting a pair of free throws to take a lead with just 18.8 seconds remaining. The Buckeyes took a timeout, having not scored in over 3 and a half minutes and went from 8 up to 2 down over that time. A Branham dribble drive was swatted out of bounds with just under 4 seconds to go and on the inbounds play a wild Ahrens three attempt from the corner was tipped away securing the come from behind win for Rutgers.
The Buckeyes are now at a crossroads. An incredible collapse that will likely cost them a shot at a Big Ten title. Where they go from here will be determined in the next few games, but the last 3 plus minutes of this basketball game was terribly mismanaged and it resulted in by far the worst Buckeye loss of the season. They played well in a hostile environment for 37 minutes of this basketball game and had it firmly in control after Zed Key buried a pair of free throws late in the game, but the offense got stagnant in the final minutes as it appeared they were more content to run clock than run their offense and it ultimately cost them, missing 11 of their final 12 shot attempts, most of them forced, to allow Rutgers to come all the way back and steal what looked like a sure win. They won’t have much time to dwell on this one as they head to another hostile environment on Saturday evening and they desperately need that game to get back on track.
Ohio State travels to Ann Arbor to face Michigan on Saturday evening. Tip time for that tilt is scheduled for 6pm and airing on ESPN.