The Rutgers coach and his team finally knocked off one of the league’s top guns on Wednesday night.
Freshman Montez Mathis’ driving layup with a minute to go delivered the decisive basket as the Scarlet Knights upset No. 16 Ohio State, 64-61, at the Rutgers Athletics Center in Piscataway, managing to overcome two potentially disastrous offensive stretches and an injury to one of their best players.
“That’s a program win,” athletics director Patrick Hobbs told NJ Advance Media. “A great program win.”
The win was Pikiell’s second against a ranked opponent as Rutgers’ coach and his first against a ranked Big Ten team. Seton Hall was ranked 15th last season when Rutgers beat the Pirates at the RAC.
The win came with some downside, though. Forward Eugene Omoruyi, Rutgers’ leading scorer, left the game with a left leg injury in the first half and did not return after being tangled up while going for a rebound. Omoruyi was eventually able to limp off, but he was on the floor for some time and in clear pain. Pikiell had no update on Omoruyi’s status after the game; he will be re-evaluated Thursday.
“These guys found a way with a lot of adversity,” Pikiell said. “They found a way to win the game. I could not be more proud of my team today.”
Rutgers led by 11 in the first half and 10 halfway through the second, but Ohio State kept hanging around. That paid off when the Scarlet Knights hit their second extended cold stretch of the evening and come all the way back to take a 61-58 lead with 2:37 to go.
By the time a Mathis layup made it 61-60 with 1:37 to go, Rutgers had gone 7:23 without a field goal. Mathis then put Rutgers up 62-61 with 1:07 to go, and a Geo Baker jumper made it 64-61 with 13 seconds left.
Ohio State’s C.J. Jackson missed a game-tying 3-point attempt from the corner off the front of the rim with two seconds left.
“I thought [Rutgers] played aggressive, physical and beat us to more loose balls,” Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann said. “We’ve got to find a way to coach better and play better.”
Mathis led Rutgers with 16 points. Baker had 15. Freshman forward Ron Harper Jr. had 12 and junior forward Shaq Carter 11.
Rutgers (8-6, 1-3) trailed early but controlled most of the first half, taking its largest lead at 28-17 with 6:02 left on a dunk by Mathis. But the Scarlet Knights went without a field goal over the final 4:54 of the period. The Buckeyes (12-3, 2-2) took advantage with a 11-1 run down the stretch to pull within 31-30 after 20 minutes. The Scarlet Knights missed their last seven shots from the floor in the first half.
The drought continued for another 1:56 with three more misses once the second half began – allowing Ohio State to take a brief lead – before a dunk by forward Shaq Doorson finally got the Scarlet Knights back on the board with 18:04 left in the game. The Scarlet Knights settled in and built their lead back up to 10, 55-45, with nine minutes to go. But then another bout of offensive malaise kicked in.
Not enough to derail Pikiell’s biggest conference win to date, though, just days after Rutgers looked like it was on the fast track back to the Big Ten basement after a lopsided loss to Maryland.
“It’s not easy,” the coach said. “It’s the best league in the country with a ton of ranked teams. We’re a young team and figuring it out, but we’re persevering through it. It’s a journey with some ups and some downs. This is a great up for us.”