Ohio State entered the game at No. 15 Rutgers without its senior leader in point guard C.J. Walker and 0-3 on the road in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes left with a win, but another injury.
Duane Washington Jr. scored 17 points and Justice Sueing addded 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists as Ohio State closed the first half with a big run to beat Rutgers 79-68 on Saturday.
“Just losing him as a leader and a ball handler,” Sueing said of Walker’s absence. “As far as me handling the ball, coach (Chris Holtmann) trusts me enough to be a ball handler, to make those decisions as well and other guys need to step up, too, and I thought we did a good job of adjusting.”
The Buckeyes (9-3, 3-3 Big Ten) used a 22-4 burst to take a 42-30 lead at halftime in sending Rutgers (7-4, 3-4) to its third straight loss.
Ohio State started the second half strong, too, expanding its lead to 52-32 with 15:56 left.
Rutgers trailed by 22 before making a late rally. Paul Mulcahy stole the ball from Jimmy Sotos, leading to a fast-break dunk that capped a 14-2 surge that made it 67-57 with 3:50 to play.
Sotos, Walker’s backup, appeared to injure his shoulder on the play and was taken to the locker room.
“I don’t want to get specific on it right now,” Holtmann said. “I think as much as anything he’s really disappointed just because of what he felt like, how he was playing. I think he wanted to continue that. So we’ll get him all the tests, evaluate and we’ll know more here in a couple of days. . He dove for the ball, made an effort-play there, hit the shoulder pretty good.”
The Buckeyes were already missing Walker. It was announced Thursday that he’s out indefinitely with torn ligaments in his thumb.
“I thought (Sotos) played really well. I thought he defended well. I thought he created offense with his ability to get in the lane. I thought his decision-making was good,” Holtmann said. “I thought Justice’s decision-making was good as well. But I thought Jimmy settled us a lot of ways and he was able to keep their guards in front. I was really, really pleased.”
The Scarlet Knights got no closer than eight points down the stretch.
The Buckeyes shot 51%, including 42% from 3-point range. Washington was 4 for 8 on 3s.
E.J. Liddell had 15 points and Kyle Young had 13 for Ohio State.
Jacob Young scored 19 points and Caleb McConnell 12 for Rutgers, which has lost four of five.
“Just staying positive with each other, standing together, knowing stuff gets hard, you don’t separate, you come together,” Young said. “The season we had the beginning of the season is going to come back. We just need help right now. We’re in a bit of a slump now. We’re going to come together. We’re going to talk it over. We got a little time to talk over it now, like a week. When we come back, we’ll come back ready.”
After losing at No. 23 Michigan State earlier this week, Rutgers will surely tumble in the polls. Ohio State, meanwhile, is receiving votes and sits right outside the Top 25 and is likely to re-enter the rankings with this win.
Both Rutgers and Ohio State had four-star recruits that were set to graduate and enroll early. Meechie Johnson Jr., who is coming off an ACL tear, checked in midway through the first half for Ohio State, while Jaden Jones recently joined Rutgers early, and was on the sidelines in street clothes.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes are now back at .500 in the Big Ten at 3-3, and earned their first road conference road win after dropping the first three.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights find themselves in a funk in a tough stretch. With Ohio State receiving votes in the AP, it was the seventh straight game to open conference play for Rutgers against a team to earn votes or a ranking in the Top 25. No. 8 Wisconsin looms next, rounding out a stretch playing five ranked opponents in the first eight conference games.