Sunday’s game at the RAC against Ohio State will occur 38 days since Rutgers lost on a three-point shot that the Big Ten conference admitted should not have counted.
The loss to OSU was devastating and definitely impacted RU’s poor performance the following game against rival Seton Hall. However, I think the loss to the Buckeyes did benefit this team in the long run. Their edge and us against the world mentality has served them well. They’ve won six of their last seven games since losing to the Pirates. This includes back to back Big Ten victories on the road against then No. 1 Purdue and Northwestern.
When Rutgers and Ohio State tip-off at the RAC on Sunday at 2:15 p.m. ET and airing live on the Big Ten Network, emotions will be running high. The crowd should be even more amped up than usual with the thirst for revenge thick in the air.
In addition, the Buckeyes stagger in on a three game losing streak, fresh off a resume busting Quad 4 home loss to last place Minnesota. Their best player, Zed Key, is dealing with a shoulder injury. He played on Thursday despite the injury and posted 10 points and 8 rebounds, he looked hindered by the issue.
Ohio State will be desperate for a win and that makes them dangerous. They come to Piscataway with the third most efficient offense in college basketball, but the need to end their current skid should generate their full effort.
How Rutgers handles the moment and manages their own emotions is the key to the game.
Payback is not guaranteed. Being too emotional can lead to bad decisions. Channeling those emotions to their advantage is something this veteran team needs to do.
If Rutgers comes out too amped up and is unable to defend without fouling, their quest for revenge could backfire. If they are unable to play under control and turn it over at a high rate, it would prove costly. They need to run their offense and not force shots or attempt to play hero ball.
Leadership and experience is key. The team as a whole but also Paul Mulcahy specifically teetered on the edge of mentally imploding at Northwestern on Wednesday night. The game was called vastly different by the officials in the first half compared to the second half. Frustrations mounted while the lead dwindled. Credit to Rutgers for recovering and overcoming the adversity they dealt with. But they need to learn from it.
That being said, they need to maintain their focus, keep their poise, and be relentless in grinding their way to victory against Ohio State. Wear them down with their physicality and toughness. Win the game with execution down the stretch. Defensive stops and getting the right players the ball in the right spots on the offensive end.
Based on the first matchup, here a few things that Rutgers didn’t do particularly well and need to improve on in Sunday’s game.
Ohio State went 8 of 19 from the three point line in the first meeting and easily could have made more. The Buckeyes are No. 15 nationally in shooting 38.7% from three-point range as a team. They’re shooting 43.8% in Big Ten play, tops in the league.
Brice Sensabaugh was 3 of 4 while five teammates each made on one apiece. Rutgers must do a better job of closing out on shooters. They have to have better recognition, especially with Sensabaugh. On the season, RU is No. 11 in three-point defense (27.8%) but in Big Ten play they are just 8th, allowing foes to shoot 35.7%.
Ohio State is ranked in the top 50 nationally in multiple offensive categories, including turnover rate and offensive rebounding rate. The only thing they are subpar in is getting to the foul line and making a lot of threes, despite shooting a high percentage when attempting them. The Rutgers defense is ranked No. 3 nationally in defensive efficiency, but this group needs to be at its best in this matchup.
Zed Key had a monster game the first time around. He led all scorers in the first meeting with with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Cliff Omoruyi held his own and played much better as the game wore on, finishing with 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting. However, he has struggled on offense over the last three games, averaging just 5.7 points on 6 of 18 shooting (33.3%). Making Cliff a priority on offense and attacking the injured Key in the paint is a strategy I hope they utilize. When Omoruyi is clicking on offense, he brings additional energy to the floor. On the flip side, he needs to play fundamentally sound defense on Key and force him to make plays.
Rutgers doesn’t have to start super fast in this game, but they need to avoid falling behind by double digits. In Columbus, Ohio State led 31-20 late in the first half. RU scored the final 8 points of the first half to get back into the game. However, the Scarlet Knights want to avoid giving up big runs in the rematch like the 14-0 run that OSU had in the first meeting. Being smart on offense and sharing the basketball should lead to good shots against a defense that is ranked just 97th nationally in defensive efficiency and 9th in league play.
A big factor in this game should be on the glass. Rutgers had a -8 rebounding margin against Ohio State in the first game and were -6 on the offensive boards. OSU held only a 8-6 advantage in second chance points, but it could be greater this time around. The more RU can limit the Buckeyes to one shot possessions the better. Both teams are in the top 4 in Big Ten play in offensive rebounding rate, but are 12th and 13th in limiting foes on the offensive glass.
In addition, Rutgers only scored 4 transition points in the first meeting. Looking to run off of defensive rebounds has been a positive of late and something they need to do against the Buckeyes.
The Scarlet Knights need to show urgency and be assertive, but not be overly aggressive. It’s a fine line. A solid start will get the crowd into the game and the Rutgers faithful will help carry this team the entire way. 40 minutes of relentless defense is Rutgers basketball and it needs to show up in a big way on Sunday.
This game is a big moment in the season. A win would bring some closure to Rutgers and the fan base. If this team can play to its potential the rest of the way, the loss in Columbus will be a footnote on the season, not a key chapter. Winning on Sunday would continue to build positive momentum and keep Rutgers in second place in the Big Ten. This team has larger goals and letting the controversial loss weeks ago plague them is beneath them. Don’t let the opportunity of revenge impact their play. Stay focused in the moment, execute at a high level.
Get the ball to Cam Spencer, McConnell needs to lock down on Sensabaugh, Cliff can take it to Zed, Paul knows how to dictate the offense and keep the team organized with Mag and Hyatt doing the dirty work.
Most importantly is this game is another opportunity to get a Quad 1 victory.
For the musical selection for this game, I chose “Victory” by the Walkmen. One of my favorite bands captured the essence of the stomach punch loss to Ohio State and the quest for redemption.
It’s going to be a supercharged environment. Rutgers needs to play their game, keep their composure and ultimately, sweep the leg of the Buckeyes. The visitors will be playing with desperation. However, the opportunity to twist the knife and bury OSU down the Big Ten standings even further is there. It’s go time.
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