Wednesday night could have gone one of two ways. Coming off a highly disappointing regular season, the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team could have: Continued their inconsistent play into the Big Ten tournament; or they could have forgotten about the regular season, played really well, and made some noise in the tournament to carry some momentum into next season. They chose the worst of the two, doing so against the worst team in the conference.
Just hours after athletic director Gene Smith gave head coach Thad Matta a vote of confidence by stating that he believes in the coaching staff and will keep them around for another season, Matta’s Buckeyes lost, 66-57, to Rutgers, the dregs of the Big Ten, in the opening round of the conference tournament.
For the first time in what seemed like forever, the Buckeyes started hot, scoring the first six points of the contest and jumping out to an early 15-5 lead. Rutgers then switched from man to a 2-3 zone and Ohio State’s offensive struggled the rest of the way. The Scarlet Knights took their first lead of the game following a 13-2 run to take a with just over nine minutes left in the first half. In the back-and-forth battle throughout the rest of the opening half, the Bucks held a 32-29 lead heading into the locker room.
Rutgers then went on a quick 10-1 run to open the second half and take a six-point lead and never looked back. Whether it was just a cold shooting night or not being able to make adjustments to the 2-3 zone, Ohio State’s first field goal of the second half didn’t come until there was just under 14 minutes remaining, when Marc Loving made a three-pointer. They continued to struggle the rest of the closing half, including not making a field goal in the final five minutes and 43 seconds, while being outscored 37-25 in the final 20 minutes to lose to the worst team in the Big Ten by nine.
Jae’Sean Tate led the Buckeyes once again, with 18 points, six rebounds, three assists, one steal, and two blocks. C.J. Jackson also notched double-digits with 12 points, two rebounds, six assists, and one steal. In his final game donning the scarlet and gray, Loving finished with just five points, one rebound, and two assists. The team shot just 40 percent from the floor, 30 percent from long distance, and 54 percent from the free-throw line.
Rebounding killed Ohio State, especially defensively. The Scarlet Knights finished with 19 (!) offensive rebounds on their way to dominate the boards, out rebounding the Bucks, 47-31. Rutgers turned those 19 offensive rebounds into 22 points. So yes, a third of their points were from the Buckeyes not being able to box out. Free-throw shooting also killed them as well. Ohio State made just 15-of-28 free-throws, including missing some important front end of one-and-ones down the stretch.
Besides not being able to rebound, Ohio State did well defensively, holding Rutgers to shoot just 37 percent from the floor, 30 percent from beyond the arc, and 68 percent from the free-throw stripe. But, when you allow a team to grab 19 offensive rebounds, their shooting struggles don’t matter.
With the loss, the Buckeyes assured that they will not make the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season. It is also the first season that Matta has not won 20 games. With how they struggled this year, they might not even make the NIT.
Now they will wait to hear their postseason fate. Some may say that Matta and company should reject the postseason tournament they get invited to and just end this horrible season. Then again, with everyone returning except for Loving (graduating), the more experience, the better.
The 2016-17 season is by far Matta’s worst since coming to Columbus and this is officially rock bottom for Matta’s program. Now what’s next?