The Ohio State men’s basketball team has been a mystery wrapped in a riddle for much of the season.
It has been nearly impossible to get any kind of gauge on what kind of team the Buckeyes are, to learn if the team that has shown itself thus far in 2015-16 is underperforming, lacking talent, lacking experience or some combination of the three.
One thing has become abundantly clear, however: OSU is far from the worst team in the Big Ten. After beating Rutgers, which is still winless in conference games this season, by a combined 38 points in their two meetings, it is clear that the Buckeyes have placed themselves well above the basement of the conference.
Their opponent on Saturday, however, might want to be on the lookout for flooding after heavy rainfall.
The Buckeyes (16-10, 8-5) handled the Scarlet Knights (6-19, 0-12) on their home floor in Piscataway, New Jersey, on Saturday by a score of 79-69 in a game that was never really in question. That contest came a month to the day since OSU handled Rutgers in Columbus 94-68.
A pair of sophomore forwards in Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate were major contributors in the game for the Buckeyes, with a double-double each. Bates-Diop scored 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting and had 14 rebounds, while Tate added 22 points and 13 rebounds. Redshirt sophomore guard Kam Williams was also big, scoring 19 points off the bench, including 12 in the second half.
The Buckeyes did not get off to a tremendous start shooting the ball, but they really didn’t need to, as Rutgers started the game shooting a grotesque 3-of-20 — which included making its first shot of the game 22 seconds in.
When all was said and done on the first 10 minutes of the game, the Buckeyes held a 20-6 lead, shooting 8-of-18. That effort was led by Bates-Diop, who scored a quick 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers in quick succession.
An extended 13-0 spurt by Rutgers made a dent in the lopsided score, cutting it to 22-19, but the Scarlet and Gray snapped their lengthy scoreless drought with a jump shot by Bates-Diop. That was followed up on the next possession with a layup by Tate to bring the lead back up to seven points.
The visitors were then able to jump their lead back up as high as 14 points en route to a 35-26 halftime margin.
Bates-Diop led all first-half scorers with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, while the Scarlet Knights countered with freshman guard Corey Sanders’ 13. Williams contributed seven points while Tate had six, but junior forward Marc Loving continued his extended period of poor play with zero points, four missed shots, a turnover and a few defensive lapses throughout the opening 20 minutes.
The opening minutes of the second half featured much more efficient scoring for the Buckeyes, who put nine points on the scoreboard in the first four minutes of the stanza. That enabled them to take control of the game, holding onto a comfortable lead throughout the half that never got smaller than seven points.
Twice when the home team threatened to get the deficit back down to single digits, Williams knocked down a shot from outside to take the crowd out of it. The Scarlet Knights finally did get it back there with a 9-0 run midway through the half, but, once again, Williams dropped in a shot from the outside to move the momentum back toward the Scarlet and Gray.
Eventually, the Buckeyes’ 61.5 percent shooting mark in the second half was too much for Rutgers to ever mount a real comeback, sealing OSU’s 17th victory of the year, with five contests left on the regular-season schedule.
OSU freshman guard JaQuan Lyle, who had the strongest all-around performance of his young college career with a triple-double in the teams’ first matchup, was unable to replicate the dominant performance. He finished with four points, three rebounds and five assists, and played just eight minutes in the second half.
Loving was also absent for much of the second half after struggling while on the court. He was on the court for just five of the final 20 minutes and failed to score a point. Sanders was the Scarlet Knights’ leading scorer with 23 points.
One very unsatisfactory statistic for OSU coach Thad Matta was the turnover column, where his team coughed the ball up 19 times to Rutgers’ 11.
A trip back home is next in the cards for the Buckeyes, as they are scheduled to take on Michigan on Tuesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.