Ohio State takes rebirth into matchup with Rutgers

Feb 29, 2024; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Jake Diebler congratulates guard Roddy Gayle Jr. (1) during the first half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Value City Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State will try to end a challenging regular season with a four-game winning streak when it visits Rutgers on Sunday in Piscataway, N.J.

After a 12-2 start when the Buckeyes beat the likes of Alabama, UCLA and West Virginia, they fell apart during the Big Ten season, leading the school to fire coach Chris Holtmann on Feb. 14.

Since then, Ohio State (18-12, 8-11 Big Ten) is 4-1 under interim coach Jake Diebler, with three wins in a row. When the Buckeyes won 60-57 at Michigan State on Feb. 25, they ended a 17-game losing streak in true road games.

“I think the narrative that was surrounding these guys — I understand there are results that go with that — but I don’t think it was entirely fair,” Diebler said this week. “The biggest thing is our aggressiveness at the end of the game … When you have that (confidence) and you go into a road game, specifically as hostile the environments are in this league, and Rutgers is certainly up there with some of the very best, you have to play with that mentality.”

The Buckeyes have been off since thrashing Michigan 84-61 last Sunday. Ohio State outshot its rivals a whopping 56.3 percent to 36.4 percent from the field. Bruce Thornton, who scored 17 points, leads the Buckeyes with 16.2 points and 4.2 assists per contest.

Rutgers (15-15, 7-12) has lost five of six games and hopes to recover from an empty two-game road trip to Nebraska and Wisconsin. The Scarlet Knights fell 78-66 to Wisconsin on Thursday, with Jeremiah Williams scoring 16 points and Gavin Griffiths hitting four 3-pointers off the bench for 14 points.

On Rutgers’ senior night, the program will honor players like Clifford Omoruyi — a Naismith Defensive Player of the Year candidate who averages 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game to go with 10.7 points — and Aundre Hyatt, who averages 10.4 points.

“We’ve got Senior Night here coming up and I need our crowd to be there,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell told reporters. “We’ve got great seniors. … I want everyone to show up and appreciate those guys, because they all had opportunities and they stayed and that’s a good thing.”

The Big Ten standings are bunched up entering the final weekend of play, and four-way ties at 8-12 or 9-11 involving one or both of these teams are possible. Ohio State can get as high as the No. 9 seed in the conference tournament with a win plus losses by Minnesota and Penn State. Rutgers will be the No. 12 or 13 seed.

–Field Level Media

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