Ohio St.-Rutgers Preview
Just as Ohio State seemed poised to get on a roll, the indefinite suspension of its second-leading scorer - and the Big Ten's top 3-point shooter - now has the team trying to bounce back from another road defeat.
Forward Marc Loving will miss a second straight contest Sunday when the No. 20 Buckeyes face a Rutgers team that's dropped seven in a row since beating the last ranked Big Ten opponent it hosted.
Shortly before Ohio State (17-6, 6-4) tried for a fourth straight victory Wednesday at Purdue, it was announced the 6-foot-7 sophomore did not travel with the team. It was said that Loving "temporarily lost his privilege to wear the scarlet and gray."
Following the Buckeyes' 60-58 loss to the Boilermakers, coach Thad Matta shed a little more light on the topic.
"It is not a right to play in our program," he said. "When the time is right, we will bring Marc back. That is all I am going to say about it."
Averaging 11.7 points, Loving entered the weekend as the nation's second-best 3-point shooter at 53.2 percent. In his most recent game Jan. 29, Loving matched a season high with 19 points, hit all five 3s and had six rebounds off the bench in an 80-56 rout of then-No. 16 Maryland.
Matta reportedly said Friday that Loving would miss this contest.
Minus Loving on Wednesday, the Buckeyes missed all five of their first-half attempts from beyond the arc and finished 4 of 15, falling to 3-5 when hitting less than 35.0 percent. After shooting 53.6 percent from the field in the previous three games, Ohio State hit 42.1 percent but remained competitive by scoring 17 points off 13 turnovers and nearly overcame a nine-point deficit with 2:05 to play.
Freshman D'Angelo Russell (19.4 points per game) scored 20 to reach that mark for the fifth time in six games, and added seven rebounds with five assists.
The Buckeyes, 2-4 in true road games with both wins coming by two points, are amid a stretch of four of five away from home.
Ohio State hasn't faced Rutgers (10-14, 2-9) since losing 97-96 at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 30, 1978.
In their initial Big Ten season, the Scarlet Knights made a big splash with a 67-62 home win over a then-No. 4 Wisconsin team without leading scorer and rebounder Frank Kaminsky on Jan. 11. Rutgers held the Badgers to 42.9 percent from the floor, but has since yielded an average of 72.0 points in seven games and 49.3 percent shooting in the last four.
Though the Scarlet Knights hope to use the sell-out crowd to their advantage, they must improve defensively and get someone to take the scoring load off Myles Mack (14.5 ppg) and Kadeem Jack (13.4). The senior duo makes up 45.5 percent of the scoring for Rutgers, which ranks last in the league with averages of 58.9 points and 39.7 percent shooting. Ohio State is among the national leaders at 79.0 points and 50.3 percent.
Mack and Jack combined for all but 21 of Rutgers' points in Tuesday's 66-54 loss at Illinois. No other Scarlet Knight scored more than seven.
"We need to find a third scorer," coach Eddie Jordan. "It could be one guy, it could be done by committee or night after night it could be a different guy."
The 5-foot-10 Mack has 40 points in the last two games after totaling 15 in the previous two.