Ohio State is hopeful that it can carry over any momentum from the final 10 minutes of its win over Northwestern Tuesday – a stretch where they blitzed the Wildcats for 32 points to pull out the win – into Saturday afternoon’s game at Rutgers.
Head coach Thad Matta knows that his team has had similar hopes before this season only to see the Buckeyes (15-10, 7-5 Big Ten) play inconsistent their next time out. The coach has been trying everything to get his team prepared, and hopes that grueling practices have them excited about the fun that comes with game time.
“I think that’s the thing with this team and just the maturity level of understanding how to get yourself ready to play and be totally engaged and do what you can do,” Matta said. “That’s kind of the message. The way we’re practicing I want these guys to say tomorrow at (4 p.m.), thank gosh, it’s going to be a heck of a lot easier than what we’ve been through.”
Luckily for the Buckeyes, they’ll be facing a Rutgers (6-18, 0-11) team that has been firmly in the basement of the Big Ten all season. The Scarlet Knights have not won a league game all season with their 11 conference losses coming by an average of 22.8 points per game. Rutgers, whose last win came on Dec. 28, entered the weekend last or next to last in the Big Ten in scoring offense, scoring defense, field goal percentage defense, rebounding margin and assist-to-turnover ratio.
Still, the Buckeyes say they are not taking their opponent lightly. The Scarlet Knights had a two-point lead on Ohio State at halftime when the teams met in Columbus Jan. 13 before the Buckeyes outscored Rutgers 55-27 in the second half for a 94-68 win.
“We can’t underestimate them because when we played them the first time in the first half we were down so just prepare like we prepared for Maryland and come in with a mindset and ready to play,” point guard JaQuan Lyle said.
Lyle, who against Northwestern in Ohio State’s last game after four games as a reserve, had a triple-double the last time the Buckeyes and Scarlet Knights squared off. Rutgers was led by Corey Sanders in that contest. The guard scores 15.9 points per game on the season and in the Jan. 13 meeting put up a game-high 20, but managed just three in the second half.
Ohio State has made a living off of teams like Rutgers this season as all seven of their league wins have come against teams that occupy the bottom five spots in the Big Ten standings. Still, the team is preaching caution.
Matta knows his team needs to simply focus on getting better, a season-long mantra that has only periodically come to fruition.
“You look at the Big Ten standings and there’s so much could happen over the next couple weeks that the focus is we’ve got to, who cares what else is going on, we’ve got to take care of ourselves,” he said. “That’s kind of been our message. We don’t feel like we’ve played consistently our best basketball yet and that’s what I’m after with them.”
Rutgers should provide a good opportunity to do that.