No. 20 Ohio State opened up Big Ten play on Wednesday night with a trip to West Lafayette to take on the Purdue Boilermakers. The Buckeyes once again were without leading scorer E.J. Liddell as they were faced with the daunting task of battling under the rim against Matt Painter’s tall and talented roster. In the end, the size mismatch was just too much for Ohio State, as Chris Holtmann’s team dropped its first game of the season in a 67-60 loss.
The absence of Liddell could not be overstated, as the Buckeyes were beaten repeatedly inside by forward Trevion Williams. The big man nearly put up a triple double as he led the Boilermakers with 16 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Justice Sueing was Ohio State’s leading scorer with 14 points, but it was a poor shooting night for the team overall as their shorthanded roster struggled against the size of Purdue.
Ohio State now moves to 5-1 on the year, with a matchup against UCLA on the docket this Saturday to close out the non-conference slate.
Mixing it up
Whether it be by necessity or just wanting to shake things up, Chris Holtmann rolled with a different starting five on Wednesday night as Ohio State played in its first Big Ten contest of the year. The unit featured its usual duo of Duane Washington Jr. at shooting guard and Justice Sueing at one of the forward spots, but it also saw three new faces with Jimmy Sotos, Musa Jallow and Zed Key all getting their first starts of the season. Not only was it the first time we’ve seen this group to start a game, but it was the first time these five guys have shared the floor.
We found out earlier in the day that the Buckeyes would be without leading scorer E.J. Liddell for a second straight contest, as the forward remains out with mono. Ohio State is also still missing forward Seth Towns, who continues to work his way back from a knee injury that’s kept him out for the last two seasons. As a team that already lacks size, Holtmann had to get creative to put together a lineup without two of its bigger forwards against a team in Purdue that features two big trees in 7-foot-3 Zach Edey and 6-foot-9 Trevion Williams.
Holtmann made sure to emphasize pregame that we shouldn’t read too much into the new lineup. There aren’t any disciplinary issues or anything like that going on, he was just simply trying to get a new look at his team. The starting five performed well defensively through the first few minutes of the game before CJ Walker subbed in, forcing four early Purdue turnovers.
An empty feeling
The absence of fans in the stands hasn’t been glaringly apparent to this point in the season. Especially in the non-conference slate, which features very little in terms of stout competition and usually takes place when most of the student body is on break, Ohio State’s home games haven't really felt all that weird yet. However, Wednesday night in Mackey Arena was the first time the lack of a real crowd was exceedingly noticeable.
The Big Ten is a very good basketball conference, and it features some of the best environments in the country. Mackey Arena in West Lafayette is usually one of the toughest places to play in the Midwest — right up there with Indiana’s Assembly Hall as one of the hardest road atmospheres in the B1G. The Boilermakers have only lost eight total games at home in their last six seasons, and a large reason for that is because of the energy brought by the Paint Crew and the rest of that raucous crowd that gets in opponents’ heads.
There is not much better in college sports that an electric college basketball arena. As the home team, you feed off the energy as the crowd gets louder and louder with each made basket. As the road team, you love nothing more than silencing the noise with a big three or a powerful dunk. We are certainly lucky to have any college basketball at all this season in the midst of a pandemic, but the games do feel a bit more hollow without bodies in the stands.
As previously stated, Ohio State was giving up a ton of size to Purdue with Liddell and Towns out. In addition to the two forwards, the Buckeyes were without the tallest player on their roster, as center Ibrahima Diallo missed Wednesday night’s contest after getting banged up against Cleveland State last time out. Unsurprisingly, Holtmann’s team really struggled on the glass and defending the paint.
In the first half alone, OSU was out-rebounded 18-11, with the Boilermakers pulling down six offensive boards leading to eight second chance points. Trevion Williams was doing it all for Purdue, leading the team with five rebounds through the first 20 minutes while also dishing out four assists. With the size mismatch underneath, the Buckeyes tried to double Williams on defense often, and the forward was able to make some really flashy passes leading to wide open baskets for his teammates.
After all was said and done, Ohio State was beaten on the glass 36-30 in total. The Bucks allowed far too many baskets inside, with 24 of Purdue’s 67 points coming on layups and dunks. The Boilermakers’ nine offensive rebounds led to 13 second-chance points, which was more or less the difference in the game.
A lid on the basket
Ohio State is not the world’s greatest three-point shooting team. Coming into tonight’s game, the Buckeyes rank near the bottom of the conference shooting just under 35% from deep as a team with 37 makes through five contests. On the other end of the floor, Purdue has actually been pretty good from downtown this year, knocking down 51 triples through six games while ranking No. 5 in the Big Ten with a three-point percentage around 38%.
Neither team could dial it in from beyond the arc in their Big Ten opener, especially in the first period. Both squads shot just 3-of-11 from three-point range heading into the locker room — a whopping 27% for those keeping track at home. Jallow, Washington and Justin Ahrens each nailed a triple for the Buckeyes in the first half, while Sasha Stefanovic led the Boilermakers hitting on 2-of-3 attempts as he led the team with 10 points at the break.
The poor shooting continued into the second period. Ohio State knocked down just three triples on 13 attempts over the final 20 minutes, while Purdue hit on 3-of-9. Overall, the Buckeyes finished the night shooting 6-of-24 from deep (25%), while the Boilermakers were a slightly more efficient 6-of-20 (30%). OSU wasn’t exactly stellar shooting from any spot on the floor, hitting just 38% of their shots from the field.
B1G basketball is back
In the first Big Ten action we’ve gotten to see from Ohio State this season, we got a glimpse at more of the same from the best conference in college basketball. The B1G has 11 teams ranked in the KenPom Top 50 — more than any other conference in the country — and the level of play from top to bottom is simply unmatched. On any given night, you know you are in for a gritty, physical battle between two talented teams, and that is exactly what we saw in the Buckeyes’ very first Big Ten game.
After being able to simply body each of their first five opponents on the schedule, with the exception of a Notre Dame that played a bit more physical, every basket had to be earned both ways on Wednesday night. There was nothing easy coming inside, every shot and every rebound was contested, and all over the floor guys were diving for loose balls and making the hustle plays necessary to win games in this conference. All it takes is a few bad possessions and you could find yourself down big in a hurry.
A physical game also meant a bunch of fouls, which hurt Ohio State down the stretch as Walker picked up his fourth foul a little more than midway through the second period. A late Purdue run really seemed to suck the last of the energy out of the Buckeyes, and they were unable to come out on top in their first B1G matchup of the year.