COLUMBUS — Ideally Ohio State would have never needed revenge against Rutgers in the first place.
But since the Buckeyes couldn’t change the past and erase one of their worst losses of the season, the next best thing was avoiding an encore performance as they look to move on from a dreadful January by making up for it in February.
Ohio State crossed the first item off the to-do list on Saturday, getting a measure of retribution against the Scarlet Knights at Value City Arena thanks to a much-improved, complete performance in a 76-62 win. The NCAA Tournament resumé for the Buckeyes would already appear to be in better shape if not for that slip-up last month at Rutgers, but they got a victory they absolutely needed to have in the return bout between the programs.
There’s still a lot of work left to do for coach Chris Holtmann and Ohio State. But the Buckeyes appear to be getting back on track heading into a stretch where they need to string together some Big Ten wins. And Lettermen Row is breaking down the latest win starting with Three Points.
Kaleb Wesson can still carry offensive load for Buckeyes
Maybe it’s just a matter of momentum for somebody with Kaleb Wesson’s big frame. Once the sophomore got rolling offensively, Rutgers had almost no chance of slowing him down — and it helped that the referees weren’t doing it either. There has been no question this season that Wesson is the key to any success for the Buckeyes. But it’s been a challenge in Big Ten play for him to consistently score at the level the program needs with opponents designing schemes to limit his looks and some suspect officiating keeping him in foul trouble. But with his 3-point stroke working against the Scarlet Knights and Wesson doing his part to avoid any whistles, Ohio State looked like the best version of itself at home for the first time in a while.
Luther Muhammad emerging as key cog for Ohio State
The Buckeyes might still be spinning the wheel from game to game finding a secondary scorer to support Wesson, and Luther Muhammad has taken a couple turns as an option in that department. It might become a more regular solution for Ohio State as the freshman continues to gain confidence in his jump shot, and he was actually the first guy other than Wesson to put any points on the board after the big man exploded for the first 12 of the game for Ohio State. Muhammad delivered a 3-pointer from the wing to break that streak and added one more before halftime, which might not seem like that big of a deal — but it’s a huge boost when combined with his shutdown work on the defensive end and energy diving after loose balls. Add in the pair of 3-pointers in the second half, and Ohio State was really in business. Muhammad is not only an important part of the foundation for the future, he’s going to play a huge role if Ohio State is going to make the Big Dance.
Better decisions lead to better offense
The streak wasn’t going to last forever, obviously, but Ohio State spent a whole half without a turnover and saw exactly how valuable that can be — especially for an offense with some talent limitations. The Buckeyes weren’t quite as sure-handed with the basketball or sound with their decisions in the second half, but the effort against Rutgers was still a marked improvement over most of the outings in January. It should come as no surprise, but avoiding self-inflicted mistakes and ending possessions with a shot instead of a giveaway is going to lead to better outcomes. Rutgers isn’t the toughest defense in the Big Ten by any stretch of the imagination, but that is the kind of fundamentally-sound work the Buckeyes will need to add to its win total in the weeks ahead.