COLUMBUS — A woeful Rutgers offense proved to be exactly the antidote suddenly slumping Ohio State needed in the final week of the regular season.
The No. 16 Buckeyes led for almost 37 of 40 minutes and snapped their first and only Big Ten losing streak with a 79-52 victory Tuesday against the Scarlet Knights at Value City Arena.
“It was good to see,” Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann said. “I thought we came out with some life to us.”
C.J. Jackson and Kam Williams scored in double figures on their senior night at OSU, and the Buckeyes (23-7, 14-3) clinched a bye into the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament next week in New York.
Michigan State beat Illinois on Tuesday to protect its one-game lead in the Big Ten standings going into the final game of the regular season.
As it stands now, the Buckeyes are No. 2 seed in the conference with a chance to move up this weekend.
Thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker, Ohio State still can clinch the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament if it beats Indiana on Friday and the Spartans lose their finale at Wisconsin on Sunday.
Against Rutgers, Williams provided much-needed shooting in his return to the starting lineup. Williams made three 3-pointers and scored 11 points in his first 11 minutes of action to help Ohio State take a comfortable lead.
The Buckeyes looked as if they would run away with the game in the first 20 minutes, as Keita Bates-Diop’s layup made the score 30-11 with fewer than six minutes to play in the first half.
The Scarlet Knights — the worst offensive team in the Big Ten — then made five straight field goals and scored 12 consecutive points.
Rutgers (13-17, 3-14) finished the half on a 16-2 run that trimmed a 19-point deficit down to five, 32-27.
In the second half, Ohio State returned the favor with interest.
Kaleb Wesson scored plus a foul, and Jackson connected on four jump shots as part of an 18-2 run that gave Ohio State a lead that proved too much for Rutgers to overcome.
“For us to get that start in the second half was crucial,” Buckeyes guard Andrew Dakich said. “C.J. really got us going.”
The Buckeyes led by as many as 30 points down the stretch.
Jackson finished with 18 points to lead all scorers, Wesson added 14, and Williams scored 13.
Jae’Sean Tate finished with nine points and a game-high 10 rebounds in his final game at Ohio State, while Bates-Diop finished with six points and eight rebounds in what likely will be his final home game as a Buckeye.
One by one, each senior was subbed out of the game and acknowledged by the home crowd.
“It was perfect in that sense, that you get a chance for those guys to celebrate with our fans,” Holtmann said.
The Buckeyes shot 59 percent (33-for-56) as a team from the field, and also outrebounded Rutgers 36-25.
At the end of the night, Ohio State gave each of its seniors a chance to speak to the crowd, and the group of them was given a standing ovation to end their final game at Value City Arena.
“To have that moment,” Bates-Diop said. “I’ll remember that forever.”
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