Ohio State Holds On to Subdue Rutgers in Late Struggle

Bruce Hooley

The weather made it hard to get into Ohio State's game against visiting Rutgers on Wednesday, but the Buckeyes couldn't blame the snowy conditions for their difficulty getting home safely.

In front by 15 points at halftime and up 20 with 13 minutes left, OSU imperiled a crucial Big Ten victory with inept offense over the time that remained and needed late free throws to preserve a 72-66 victory..

"We knew, we kept saying to our guys, 'Hey, the second half is going to be a different half,' " Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. "And it certainly was that. We survived against a really good team."

Rutgers, which came from 18 down to win in overtime against Northwestern in its previous game, reduced a 55-35 deficit to 69-66 on Geo Baker's deep three-pointer with 27 seconds left.

Andre Wesson hit the first of a one-and-one after being fouled on the inbounds and Baker missed another triple trying to further the comeback, after which OSU ran out the clock on a win as ugly as the driving conditions before tip.

"I really want to thank our fans for coming out," Holtmann said. "...give me your ticket stub when I see you out some time and I'll buy you a drink. I didn't say, 'A beer.' I said, 'a drink."

Holtmann would have needed something harder than soda to swallow this defeat had the Buckeyes failed to hang on, but despite the late struggle he's learned to take an all's-well-that-ends-well approach to any Big Ten triumph.

"It's too hard to win in this league," Holtmann said. "If you think I'm going to come in here sour, 'Oh, man....' Nick Saban might, but I''m not going to.' "

Kaleb Wesson and Andre Wesson combined for 29 points and Luther Muhammad added 10 for the Buckeyes (16-8, 6-7), who can get to .500 in the conference for the first time this season with a win over visiting Purdue at noon Saturday.

The late drama belied a comfortable Ohio State start that traced to an early preoccupation with the three-point line.

OSU's first seven attempts came from beyond the arc and it attempted 17 of 29 shots from there in the first half.

It made seven, including triples from Andre Wesson and Justin Ahrens in the final minute that rebuilt a margin Rutgers (17-8, 8-6) had hacked to nine.

"You can't spot a team that's well coached and has good players 15 points at halftime," Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. "...We have to play 40 minutes in this league, especially on the road."

All three of Pikiell's players who scored in double figures did so off the bench, with Jacob Young getting 17, Baker 13 and Paul Mulcahy 12.

Ahrens helped the bench scoring stay competitive with all nine of his in the first half and Duane Washington added 10.

Luther Muhammad, a New Jersey native, also scored 10, his highest-output since a Dec. 29 loss to West Virginia, against his home-state school.

"There's no question we have to do some things better," Holtmann said. "I did not love our defensive approach in the second half."

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Comments (1)

Glad that they were able to hold on and secure that victory. It gave me some hope that this team can finish games.