When Rutgers dug itself into a 10-point hole roughly six minutes into its opening-round matchup with Ohio State, the Scarlet Knights immediately found their backs pinned against the wall.
But what ensued afterward was the latest resilient effort from Steve Pikiell’s team.
Highlighted by 19 offensive rebounds and 22 second-chance points, 14-seed Rutgers responded with a 66-57 comeback win over the 11-seed Buckeyes in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament at Verizon Center.
“It was a huge, huge emphasis going into this game,” Pikiell said of the offensive rebounding and second-chance points. “They’re big. They’re athletic. We talked about it a lot. Relentless rebounders was our second key. I wanted our guys to go for it. Again, they did a really good job. They were active. We subbed a lot of fresh bodies in. I thought that helped us, too.
“I like that number. That’s a big reason why we’re here today with the win.”
After a slow start, the Scarlet Knights (15-17) found the momentum from their Senior Day win over Illinois.
They channeled it into another resounding effort against the Buckeyes (17-15) for the first Big Ten tournament win in Rutgers history.
While Rutgers made its free throws count with a 13-for-19 line to show for its efforts, Ohio State struggled mightily from the free-throw line with a 54-percent clip.
“You know, tonight we weren’t ready to fight at the level we needed to fight, for whatever reason,” said Ohio State coach Thad Matta. “March Madness, all that stuff, I told the guys, ‘This is where players play. This is where players make the money.’”
Rutgers brought the energy with a 32-8 advantage off the bench, and its post players brought the juice to outmuscle Ohio State in the paint 30-18.
Rutgers also bodied the Buckeyes on the glass with a plus-16 margin in total rebounds.
“Rebounding, I mean, that’s one area we’ve been focusing all year,” said junior guard Nigel Johnson, who dropped a game-high 21 points off the bench. “… To come out today when we’re in the tournament, when it means the most, to put a show like that on the boards, it definitely means a lot.”