Ohio State rebounded nicely earlier this week with a win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers, but they'll have a tougher test when Purdue comes to town Sunday. At least the Buckeyes are back at home now - the road has not been kind to this squad, who lost three of their last four road games. Ohio State lost narrowly to Purdue just 21 days ago. Revenge games have usually been Thad Matta's speciality, so you can bet that he'll have the team amped for this matchup.
Ohio State's victory over Nebraska was based on excellent production from Jae'Sean Tate and Sam Thompson, who had 22 and 15 points, respectively. While D'Angelo Russell continues to drive the offensive production for this team, they'll still need points from the supporting cast. Russell is drawing consistent double teams, and Marc Loving and Amir Williams have hit scoring slumps recently. March is the time for leaders to step up, and this game is an opportunity for Ohio State's playmakers to make themselves known.
Purdue, meanwhile, is riding a four game winning streak, albeit over Rutgers (twice, which almost counts as one legitimate victory), Indiana and Nebraska. But Purdue has also beat Iowa and Michigan this season, and their only loss in the last nine games was a four-point squeaker against Minnesota. This team is clicking: they hung 92 on Rutgers just a few days ago, and Joe Lunardi has them as an 11 seed right now. This team is very dangerous. Ohio State needs to send a message with a victory.
Numbers to know
Lunardi has Ohio State as an 8 seed right now, placing them in a tough 8 v. 9 first round matchup. Another string of victories and a strong showing in the Big Ten tournament would go a long way to placing Ohio State in a higher seed and give them a better chance of making it to that second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Matta's Buckeyes are ordinarily strong at the end of the season - this team needs another powerful finish, or they'll be in a rough spot come Selection Sunday.
Marc Loving has scored 10 total points in the last three games. Before that, his three-game suspension, Loving was regularly scoring in the double digits each game. Other players have stepped up, namely motor-man Jae'Sean Tate, but Ohio State needs Loving to return to his regularly scheduled production. Scoring threats from players not named D'Angelo Russell lets the Buckeye's star do his best work.
In only two games since January 1 has a Purdue opponent scored more than 70 points. One was during this week's shootout with Rutgers, and one was an overtime game against Penn State. Purdue loves to force their opponents into low-scoring, defensive struggles. Ohio State can play that game too, but they're much better, much more successful, and much more entertaining to watch when they're scoring in bunches. When the going gets tough for Ohio State on their end of the court, things get weird. Watch out for Purdue's smother-attack.
Cast of characters
Tate is having himself a nice little February. He's averaging around 30 minutes a game, has three double-digit scoring games in the last five, and has become part of the heart and soul of this team. Watching Tate's game is like watching Tristan Thompson: he's not always scoring the points, but he's always making a contribution to the team, through energy, by sticking with plays, gathering rebounds, or blocking shots. It's not always clear how Tate's going to influence the game, but you can be sure he'll put his mark on this matchup.
Everyone, including Phil Jackson, knows about D'Angelo Russell. And everyone's Sam Thompson flying through the air for a block or a dunk. But Thompson's suddenly been hitting outside shots, and his box scores show it. Defenses who might have thought about shading off Thompson when he's outside the arc now need to give him his due. That has dramatically improved Ohio State's spacing and allowed the rest of the team to get into rhythm. Thompson will look to continue showing that he's deserves to play pro basketball somewhere during his final games in the scarlet and gray.
Leading the way for Purdue is A.J. Hammons, averaging just over 11 points a game and pacing the team in rebounds per game too. Hammons scored just 7 against Ohio State earlier this year, but that's well off his usual pace. If Hammons gets loose, he can pile on the points. He shoots just under 55%. He's just a 65% free throw shooter, so if Ohio State can send him to the line, that may be the recipe for success.
Junior guard Rapheal Davis scored 20 against Ohio State during the last meeting. His scoring has been trending up during the last few games too, going from 6 against Nebraska to 16 in the Rutgers game. The good news? He's just 26% from three, so if the Ohio State defense can keep him outside the line, we'll have a shot. Davis cannot be permitted to drive the lane for easy points.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network and also broadcast on the radio at 97.1 FM.