Ohio State led by as many as 12 points in the second half vs. Rutgers but had to hang on for a 70-64 win at Value City Arena on Wednesday night.
Kam Williams broke a 62-62 tie by hitting a three-pointer while being fouled and making the ensuing foul shot to give Ohio State (15-10, 5-7 Big Ten) a 66-62 lead with 1:05 left in the game.
"I just went down to the box and Trevor (Thompson) set me a good screen," Williams said. "So I just read my defender and knocked the shot down.”
Rutgers (13-12, 2-10) tied the game on its previous possession when Issa Thiam tipped in a shot after the Scarlet Knights stole the ball from Marc Loving. Free throws from Loving and C.J. Jackson sealed the win for the Buckeyes.
Williams finished with 23 points while shooting 8 of 15 from the field. Thompson notched his ninth double-double of the season, scoring 15 points and pulling down 13 rebounds.
Corey Sanders paced Rutgers with 17 points on 5-of-13 shooting before fouling out.
For a second straight game, sophomore guard C.J. Jackson started in place of JaQuan Lyle for OSU. Lyle, who started the first 23 games of the season, has been dealing with an injured ankle for almost a week.
"He came in at halftime and said he was done," OSU head coach Thad Matta said of Lyle. "He took his tape off. He did play a little bit in the second half. So I got to try to figure out what it was but he was not moving very well tonight. I said to him at the beginning of the game, ‘What is going on here? You don’t look the same.’ It must be bothering him a little bit more than I thought it was.”
The Buckeyes led by as many as 11 points in the first half, thanks to a 13-4 run that began at the midway point of the opening period. Jae'Sean Tate had a team-high five points during the stretch, and Micah Potter's put-back dunk at the 6:11 mark made it a 27-16 OSU lead.
Rutgers cut it to six on four different occasions in the final minutes of the half. Nigel Johnson’s layup with 10 seconds left brought the Scarlet Knights within six for the final time, as the Buckeyes held a 33-27 lead at the break.
OSU expanded its halftime lead to 12 early in the second frame when Thompson split a pair of foul shots with 16:49 left to play to put the Buckeyes ahead, 41-29. Rutgers did not go away, however, as Mike Williams' jumper with 9:31 remaining tied the game at 50.
OSU responded with four straight points via a jumper from Williams and two free throws by Thompson to go back on top, 54-50, with 8:46 left on the clock. Rutgers then cut it to one twice, the second instance occurring when Deshawn Freeman tossed in a layup at the 7:37 mark of the second half to make it a 56-55 lead in favor of the Buckeyes.
Williams connected from long distance with just less than six minutes remaining to give the Buckeyes a four-point cushion. OSU retained the lead until Thiam's tip-in with 1:19 left tied it up at 62, setting up Williams' pivotal four-point play.
"That big four-point play down the stretch kind of put the final nail in our coffin," said Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell.
Loving left the game midway through the first half after sustaining a cut above his left eye. He returned to the game and finished with eight points in 30 minutes of action. After the contest, Matta said the senior forward was given stitches but will be fine moving forward.
Though the Buckeyes won, Matta was not pleased with how they got the victory.
“We didn’t play at the level I wanted us to play at," Matta said. "We did some good things but it wasn’t all the way through the game at the level that I was hoping that we would play at."
Looking ahead, Ohio State travels to Maryland to take on the 21st-ranked Terrapins (20-4, 8-3) on Saturday afternoon.
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