Suddenly, all the shots that had been falling were bouncing off the rim. The stingy defense, without its fouled-out elite rim protector, was being ravaged. Minus its ace penetrator, the offense became stagnant.
Rutgers and its fans will have to wait for a top-10 ranking. For the first time in this impressive start to the season, the 11th-ranked Scarlet Knights tasted defeat, blowing a 16-point second-half lead at No. 23 Ohio State in a disappointing 80-68 setback. So frustrated with the officiating was coach Steve Pikiell that he was whistled for the first technical foul of his career.
The game turned just past the midway point of the second half. Rutgers was up eight when Myles Johnson fouled out. Less than a minute of game time later, point guard Jacob Young was lost to a shoulder injury. The Scarlet Knights were already down prized freshman forward Cliff Omoruyi.
Those absences, and Ohio State’s furious rally, were too much to overcome. A 16-2 run turned the game into a one-sided Buckeyes victory, part of a 52-point second half.
Rutgers had no answer for them in the paint, as E.J. Lidell and Kyle Young combined to score 37 points and grab 18 rebounds. Without a post option and the speedy Young sidelined, the offense became too perimeter-oriented, making it easy to defend. Ron Harper Jr. (team-high 20 points) was held scoreless over the final 10:09.
Rutgers started fast, quickly building a double-digit lead behind its trademark stifling defense and hot perimeter shooting. It was 22-11 less than halfway through the first half and 36-23 late in the opening 20 minutes.
Ohio State finished the half by controlling the paint with Johnson and backup Mamadou Doucoure in foul trouble and it started the second half the same way. The Buckeyes got within six early in the second half, before the Scarlet Knights responded with 10 straight points, eight from Harper.
Ohio State kept coming, punishing Rutgers inside. Johnson fouled out on a questionable call with 8:44 left and Rutgers up eight. Less than a minute later, another key Rutgers player was lost, when Young hurt his shoulder on a drive.
Soon, the lead was down to two, after a Young basket in the lane, and a few possessions later, Ohio State was up for good. Pikiell soon got his technical foul.
Rutgers wasn’t going to enter Christmas undefeated. Too much went wrong at the worst possible time.