Ohio State head coach Thad Matta knew his team would have at least one lackluster game in Indianapolis during the Big Ten Tournament, but the Buckeyes kept things much too close for comfort in the opener against 12-seed Purdue.
The Buckeyes pulled out a tough, physical match-up with the Boilermakers 63-61 to advance to the Big Ten quarterfinals Friday.
The Buckeyes were inches away from a loss Thursday as Purdue's senior guard Terone Johnson front-rimmed a last second shot that would have sent Ohio State back to Columbus early.
"We did not play well today. We were slow," said Matta in an interview with BTN after the game concluded.
Junior forward LaQuinton Ross carried Ohio State for much of the second half when his teammates once again went cold from the field. Ross finished with 19 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.
"Some games everyone's shots not gonna fall for you and you gotta find a way to tough it out," Ross said after the game.
Ross' physical presence gave a solid counter for Ohio State against Purdue's AJ Hammons who battled down low all game. Hammons continued to give the Buckeyes problems, finishing with 15 points and nine rebounds in a losing effort.
The Buckeyes' defense saved them once again, forcing Purdue into 17 turnovers. Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. swiped one of his four steals with less than 10 seconds to play from Terone Johnson. However, Ohio State's free-throw shooting once again left the door open. Smith missed one-of-two from the line, giving Purdue another opportunity, yet they fell short.
Ohio State dominated the paint early and often against a Purdue team that finished second in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding (13.9 rpg).
The first half was not pretty, but the Buckeyes pounded the glass to the tune of a 27-12 rebounding edge in the first 20 minutes. The Buckeyes struggled from the three-point line, shooting just 1-8 from deep, but outscored Purdue 22-14 in the paint during the first half.
Ohio State led by just three, 30-27 going into intermission.
In the second half, the game went back-and-forth for much of the action. The Boilermakers set the tone when guard Raphael Davis made a tremendous effort to save a ball from going out-of-bounds, leading to a Ronnie Johnson hoop and harm to tie the game at 30.
Ronnie Johnson kept Purdue in the game with his aggressive style of play. The quick, diminutive guard from Indianapolis had 12 points and three assists for Purdue. However, late in the game Johnson ran into foul trouble.
After exiting the game with his fourth foul, senior Buckeye guard Aaron Craft proceeded to take advantage. In fact, Craft took advantage of any little crease in the Boilermaker defense all game long. Craft filled the stat sheet with 16 points, five assists, and three steals.
His final steal came after missing a floater in the lane with less than a minute to play. He recovered, spotted the rebounder AJ Hammons, and swiped him from behind.
It was vintage Craft and it saved another big possession for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State has to get ready to compete again Friday against Nebraska in the Big Ten quarterfinals. The Buckeyes split the season series with Nebraska, with each team winning on its home court.