COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Coming off two tough road losses that dropped them out of first place in the Big Ten, the No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes got a feel-good win when they needed it.
A couple of underclassmen carried the Buckeyes on an emotional senior night. C.J. Jackson came off the bench to score 18 points, and freshman Kaleb Wesson added 14 as Ohio State routed Rutgers 79-52 on Tuesday.
After being upset by Penn State on Thursday and then Michigan on Sunday, the Buckeyes (23-7, 14-3 Big Ten) exploded in the second half, just as the Scarlet Knights folded.
“We were ready to get back on the court and try to get that bitter taste out of our mouths,” said guard Andrew Dakich, a graduate transfer who has contributed greatly as a ball-handler this season after playing three years at Michigan.
Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State’s best player who likely was playing his last game at Value City Arena, called it a “perfect storm” of motivation.
Kam Williams, also playing in his last home game, had 13 points including a trio of 3-pointers. Senior Jae’Sean Tate contributed nine points and 10 rebounds.
Corey Sanders had 12 points for the Scarlet Knights (13-17, 3-14), who have lost eight of their last nine. They were hurt by the absence of Geo Baker, the team’s third-leading scorer who was out with the flu.
Ohio State led 32-27 at the half. The Buckeyes had built a 19-point lead coming off an 11-0 run with 5:41 left in the half but then went cold. Rutgers put together a 16-2 run to finish the half, during which Ohio State went 1 for 8 from the floor.
But Rutgers opened the second half 1 for 8, and Ohio State took control with an 18-2 run, and the rout was on.
“I thought we weren’t good offensively, but our defense kind of kept us around in the first half,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “Obviously we couldn’t sustain that in the second half. Our inability to score really affected our defense in the second half.”
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights took advantage of a short period of cold shooting by Ohio State at the end of the first half that gave them hope, but they didn’t have nearly enough talent to keep it up in the second half.
Ohio State: Buckeyes did what was expected against a poor-shooting team after dropping two on the road and giving up eight spots in the AP Top 25.
“Young people today, they sometimes have a hard time recovering from tough stretches,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “Just to see the ball go in was good for them.”
They’ll need some help to win the regular-season conference title but have been one of the college basketball’s best stories this season.
Bates-Diop continued to struggle with his shooting. After starting the month as the likely candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year, he has had trouble scoring against more aggressive defenses.
He had just six points against Rutgers on 3-for-11 shooting, after grinding out 10 in the loss to Penn State and 17 against Michigan. In the two losses, he was a combined 9 for 28 from the floor, and 4 for 8 from 3-point range.
“This is a good team, and if I’m not hitting shots, everyone else is,” Bates-Diop said. “That’s all I care about.”
He has a year of eligibility remaining but likely will leave for the NBA. He graduated from Ohio State in December.
Rutgers: Finishes regular season Sunday at Illinois.
Ohio State: Finishes Friday at Indiana.