Third-ranked Ohio State shook off a sluggish start in their Big Ten Conference opener and take down Purdue, 78-69. The Buckeyes improved to 14-0 on the season, while the loss marks the first defeat for the Boilermakers on their home court this season
The Buckeyes came out of the gate exactly how you would imagine a team to play in an early starting New Year's Eve game, and the Boilermakers took full advantage. Purdue fed off the energy from the Mackey Arena crowd, using second-chance opportunities against the Buckeyes smaller lineup to keep within striking distance.
While the smaller lineup benefited the Buckeyes offensively, as it put more perimeter shooting on the floor, however, Purdue's AJ Hammons was able to use his will against the smaller Ohio State defenders. Standing at 7 feet tall, Hammons was often being guarded by the 6-foot, 2-inch Aaron Craft. While this was a result of Purdue's screens and not by Thad Matta's design, it allowed Hammons to record the fourth double-double of his career. The sophomore, who played his prep ball at Oak Hill Academy (VA), finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds after recording nine points and nine rebounds in the first half as Purdue trailed by one at the intermission, 34-33.
Despite the height disadvantage, the crafty senior from Findlay used his quick hands to disrupt Hammons. The Energizer Bunny in human form, Craft recorded four steals as he was in Hammons' pocket all afternoon. Offensively, Craft paired 10 assists with no turnovers, as he became the first player in school history to record 1000 points, 500 assists and 200 steals in his career.
With official Ted Valentine roaming the baseline, it's not surprising the game had a bit of controversy. Just before the under-12 timeout, Ohio State's LaQuinton Ross tallied a bucket, plus one, to put the Buckeyes up by five. However, it seemed as if Purdue's Basil Smotherman was able to get his feet set to take a charge, but was called for a blocking foul instead. Replays show that Smotherman was moving as Ross went up for the deuce.
The Buckeyes began to pull away at this point, much to the dismay of the home crowd, who was still booing the call minutes later. Ross must have thought the Purdue faithful were chanting "Q" as he put the team on his back offensively in the second half, where he scored 17 of his 25 points. The 25 points were a career-high for the junior.
The Buckeyes also benefited from the emergence of freshman Marc Loving, who finished with eight solid points. Loving added some pop to the offense off of the bench, as he knocked down his first shot of the afternoon from behind the arc. Like the rest of his teammates, Loving took advantage of a couple nice drives by Craft on his field attempts.
Ohio State has still not allowed an opponent to reach 70 points the season, however, the Boilermakers came within one of that mark, matching the highest total allowed by the Buckeyes this season. Ohio State previously allowed the Ohio Bobcats to reach 69 points, as well.
The Buckeyes will return the friendly confines of Value City Arena on Saturday, January 4th, as they square off with Nebraska. Tip-off is set for noon and the game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
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