WASHINGTON — When those coaches were saying that anyone can beat anyone in this year's Big Ten Tournament, they weren't lying.
Rutgers, the worst team in the conference, record-wise, all season long, captured its first-ever Big Ten Tournament win Wednesday night, knocking off Ohio State by a 66-57 score at the Verizon Center.
The Scarlet Knights advanced to take on the sixth-seeded Northwestern Wildcats on Thursday night.
Ohio State can blame itself for a crushing defeat and a brutal end to its season. The Buckeyes shot a miserable 23.8 percent from the field in the second half, but they were really done in by horrendous free-throw shooting. Ohio State was 15-for-28 from the charity stripe.
Rutgers, meanwhile, dominated on the glass. The Knights had a 47-31 rebounding edge, with 19 of those offensive rebounds turning into 22 second-chance points.
Nigel Johnson scored 21 points off the bench for Rutgers, helping give the Knights a 32-8 edge in bench points.
The Buckeyes had a great first half shooting the ball, hitting at a 54.2-percent clip. But the Knights trailed by just three at the half, thanks in large part to their 12-2 edge in second-chance points. Rutgers' bench also outscored Ohio State's reserves by a 17-0 margin over the opening 20 minutes, with Johnson contributing 10 of those points for the Knights.
Rutgers punched Ohio State in the mouth to open the second half, going on a 10-1 run to grab a lead on Ohio State, which mustered just four points in the first six and a half minutes of the half, all on free throws with no made shots. Marc Loving's 3-pointer ended that stretch, but the Buckeyes continued to shoot poorly throughout the second half while the Knights kept cleaning up their own misses, dominating the offensive glass and turning that into points.
The Knights matched grabbed a six-point lead with under six minutes to play, but the Buckeyes chipped away, keeping things tight. Johnson knocked down a big 3-pointer with about two minutes remaining to turn a razor-thin two-point margin into a five-point gap. That proved the game's biggest bucket, as the Buckeyes couldn't get any closer than four the rest of the way.
Rutgers actually shot pretty poor from the field, just 37.1 percent on the night. But those big stat advantages elsewhere coupled with Ohio State's atrocious free-throw shooting helped the Scarlet Knights grab the biggest win of the young Steve Pikiell Era.
What a win it was for Pikiell. In his first Big Ten Tournament, he led the Knights to a win over Thad Matta's Buckeyes. Matta, who received a vote of confidence earlier in the day from his athletics director, entered with the best-ever winning percentage in the Big Ten Tournament.
Rutgers will take on Northwestern on Thursday night. The Knights lost twice to the Wildcats earlier this season but only by a combined 13 points.
Ohio State's season bottomed out with a 17-15 record, the worst during Matta's tenure in Columbus. This is the first group of Matta Buckeyes to fail to reach 20 wins in a season.