After a potentially season-saving win against Iowa in their last time out, Ohio State (18-10, 8-9) will take on their second ranked team in a row as they hit the road to face-off against No. 14 Purdue (21-7, 14-3). As if facing a top-15 team on the road wasn’t hard enough, the Buckeyes will have to do so without leading scorer Kaleb Wesson, who was suspended on Friday for a violation of policy. The game is set to begin at 2 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN.
Following an impressive start to the season, Ohio State found themselves on the bubble to make the NCAA Tournament heading into the final seven games of the regular season. With an incredibly poor stretch in the month of January, where the team lost 6-of-7 against Big Ten opponents, and back-to-back losses in mid-February to Illinois and Michigan State, the Buckeyes had their backs against the wall in the final few weeks before the start of the conference tourney. However, after a win over Northwestern and a decisive victory over No. 22 Iowa, OSU is back in the hunt.
The Buckeyes’ dominant 90-70 defeat of the Hawkeyes on Tuesday was arguably their best win of the year and it could not have come at a better time. Ohio State was led by Justin Ahrens, whose career-high 29 points on 6-of-10 shooting from behind the arc and 9-of-9 shooting from the charity stripe electrified the Value City Arena crowd and carried the Bucks to their first win over a ranked opponent all year. Kaleb Wesson added 18 points and 11 rebounds on the stat sheet as OSU outscored Iowa 54-37 in the second period in what ended in a blowout win for the Scarlet and Gray.
Wesson’s suspension comes at a very poor time for Ohio State, as the team will play two ranked opponents over their final three contests. Wesson has led the Buckeyes in scoring all season, averaging 14.6 points per game to go along with a team-high 6.7 rebounds per game. While the sophomore big man has struggled to stay on the floor over the last two months as opposing teams continue to force Wesson into foul trouble, he was seemingly starting to figure it out, averaging less than two fouls per game in his last four appearances. Head coach Chris Holtmann did not give an exact length of Wesson’s suspension, but he did say that the forward will return this season.
Without Wesson against the Boilermakers, the Buckeyes will have to find a way to make up for his lost production, likely by committee rather than with a single player. While it is unlikely that Ahrens will continue to knock down 60 percent of his three-pointers, it will probably mean that the freshman will yet again see increased minutes even with the return of a healthy C.J. Jackson. Ohio State should hope to see some additional offensive production from Luther Muhammad, who hasn’t scored in double figures since his 20-point outing against Penn State on Feb. 7.
Purdue is having a phenomenal season, tied atop the Big Ten standings with Michigan State. They currently find themselves on a four-game win streak, while also winning 12 of their last 13 contests — their lone loss to No. 24 Maryland on the road. One of those dozen wins came against Ohio State, when they knocked off the Buckeyes 79-67 in Columbus in the two teams’ only other meeting of the year back at the end of January.
In their last time out, the Boilermakers dominated a lowly Illinois team 73-56. They were led, as usual, by Carsen Edwards, who is having another absolutely monster season for Purdue. The junior guard dropped a game-high 23 points in a contest that the Illini actually led at half by one. The Boilermakers put on the clamps in the second period, however, holding Illinois to just 23 points as the team in the final 20 minutes. Purdue’s Matt Haarms added 21 points on his own on a perfect 8-of-8 from the field while also snagging 10 rebounds. Not a single player on Illinois scored in double figures.
As previously mentioned, Edwards is having a career year for the Boilermakers. He is averaging a whopping 23.4 points per game, the most in the Big Ten and 11th-most in the nation, just ahead of Duke’s R.J. Barrett at 23.3. He also holds the conference lead with 96 made three-pointers on the year — 12 ahead of the player in second, teammate Ryan Cline. Edwards has scored in double figures in all but one game this season, a nine-point outing two games ago against Indiana in which his team still won. Edwards is one of the most prolific scorers in college basketball, but his heavy usage also results in a lot of turnovers, as he leads the Big Ten with 92 giveaways this season.
Saturday’s game will feature as senior day for Purdue, with a number of milestones on the line. Head coach Matt Painter will be going for his 200th career win at Mackey Arena, currently holding a ridiculous 199-35 record in his friendly confines. A win on Saturday would give Purdue’s senior class a 63-4 career record at home, setting the school record for most wins in Mackey Arena history. Boilermaker seniors Ryan Cline and Grady Eifert own a career 104-31 record, tying for the third-best win percentage in school history.
ESPN BPI: 81.6% Purdue
Vegas Line: N/A
Purdue is not a school you want to have to beat on their home floor. Since Jan. 2017, the Boilermakers have won 37 of their last 38 games played at Mackey Arena. The one loss? Ohio State on a game-winning tip-in during the final seconds as the Buckeyes came away with a 64-63 win last February. Should OSU come away with a huge upset victory on Saturday, they would be the first school to win back-to-back contests in Mackey Arena since the 2013-14 season.
The home dominance for Purdue doesn’t stop there. Over their last seven games in West Lafayette, no team has scored more than 65 points against the Boilermakers, and they have held opponents to under 39 percent shooting from the floor. Their 16-game home winning streak is the sixth-longest in the country. With Ohio State functioning as their last home game of the season, Purdue will be looking to go undefeated in Mackey Arena for the third time in the building’s history and second time under Painter.
The numbers certainly don’t bode well for the Buckeyes. This is especially true knowing they will be without their best player in Kaleb Wesson. It would have taken a herculean effort to knock off Edwards and the Boilermakers on their home floor even with their star big man. However, without Wesson, a raging-hot Purdue team should not have any problem turning away an upset-minded Ohio State.