On Tuesday night, the No. 15 Ohio State Buckeyes (11-4, 5-4) hosted the Purdue Boilermakers (11-5, 6-3) with both teams entering the game on three-game winning streaks that had them tied for fourth in the country’s best men’s basketball contest.
The Buckeyes continued to be without their primary ball-handlers C.J. Walker and Jimmy Sotos as they both continue to deal with injuries, and the lack of an experienced ball-handler really hurt the offense as Matt Painter’s team erased a double-digit deficit to pull off the 67-65 victory.
Despite the hot shooting from deep — especially in the first 20 minutes, — the Boilers kept the game close in the second half, as OSU struggled to get into an offensive flow without a traditional point guard bringing the ball up the floor.
With Purdue clawing back into the game in the second half, it felt like the Buckeyes were the clueless teenagers in a horror movie making every wrong decision in trying to avoid the psychotic, ax-wielding serial killer. No matter what fruitless move they made, the killer slowly, but methodically continued to gain ground until his victim was well within arms’ length. And, with each step that the predator made — getting closer and closer to his prey — the
teenagers Buckeyes began to panic more and more hurting their chances for survival.
“From way downtown, BANG!”
The positive story of this game — at least from an offensive perspective for Ohio State — was the Buckeyes’ shooting from beyond the arc. Coming into the contest, OSU was shooting 34.1% from beyond the arc, which was good for only 11th in Big Ten. However, thanks to the Boilermakers packing the lane in the first half, the home team hit four of their first six triples, then eight of 16, and at halftime they were 9-of-22 (40.9%) from downtown.
Ironically, Ohio State did not make a two-point basket until Kyle Young hit a jumper at the 7:45 mark in the first half to put the Buckeyes up 21-19. In the first 20 minutes, they made nine from three-point land, but only attempted seven two-point baskets.
The Buckeyes were hitting bombs in every form and fashion early on, but the vast majority of them were on clean, open looks. We saw a number of drive-and-kicks that led to triples, which allowed the home team to pick up assists on 11 of their 20 baskets on the game. We also saw OSU capitalize on turnovers leading to transition threes (peep the video a few points down to see an epic transition-three).
Coming into Tuesday night’s game, the most three-point attempts that the Buckeyes had on the season was 32 in their Dec. 30 90-54 victory over the Nebraska Cornhuskers in which they connected on 12. Against the Boilermakers, they finished shooting a combined 14-for-35 (40%) from beyond the arc.
In conference play this season, the Boilers were holding opponents to just 31.5% from beyond the arc, which was good for the third best percentage in the B1G.
However, things did not go as smoothly from distance in the second half. OSU hit just two of its first nine three-point attempts after halftime. Without the points from deep, the offense struggled to find good looks allowing Purdue to not only climb back into the game, but to also erase what once was an 11-point lead when they went up 54-53 with 5:30 left in regulation. From there, it was back and forth until Jaden Ivey hit a triple of his own with just seconds remaining to essentially seal the game.
On the night, Washington led all scorers with 21, thanks to connecting on six of his nine attempts from distance. Also connecting from deep multiple times for OSU was Ahrens (3-9) and Justice Sueing (2-4).
As referenced above, Ohio State’s fifth-year senior point guard C.J. Walker has been out of action since the team’s Jan. 3 game against Minnesota dealing with ligament damage in his right, non-shooting, hand. Walker’s primary backup, Bucknell transfer Jimmy Sotos is also dealing with what the Big Ten Network broadcast said that Holtmann described as a “significant shoulder injury.”
With all of that in mind, the trio of Sueing, Washington, and true-freshman Meechie Johnson combined to bring the ball up the floor in most situations for the home team. The former two Buckeyes on that list are not traditional point guards, and Johnson has only been with the team for less than two weeks, so certainly not an ideal situation no matter how you slice it.
However, the arrangement worked fairly well in the first half, when triples were dropping on the reg, but as points became harder to come by after halftime, the lack of a true ball-handling leader came back to bite the Buckeyes. Ohio State struggled to get good looks, and the offensive flow suffered. the Buckeyes turned the ball over 11 times on the night, which directly led to 15 points for Purdue. Conversely, the Boilermakers’ 10 turnovers led to only eight OSU points.
It doesn’t look like the Buckeyes will get either point guard back any time soon, so Chris Holtmann and company are going to have to figure out a way to keep the offense functioning down the stretch if they want to improve upon two-straight round of 32 losses in the NCAA tournament.
Trevion Williams gets in foul trouble, but is never challenged again
Exactly eight minutes into the game, Purdue’s 6-foot-10 forward Trevion Williams picked up his second foul of the contest. Williams leads the Boilers in both points (15.3) and rebounds (9.7) this season; the latter of which is the second highest total for anyone in the B1G.
Despite scoring the game’s first two baskets, Williams only saw six minutes of action in the first half. In his stead, 7-foot-4 freshman Zach Edey was tasked with manning the paint for Purdue. Despite having one of the best post players in the conference on the bench for most of the first half, Purdue outpaced the Buckeyes in terms of points in the paint by a whopping 36-8 margin.
However, things turned around for Purdue in the second half as Williams was not whistled for another foul in the game. OSU’s reliance on the three ball took them away from trying to force the Purdue big man into foul trouble, leading to Williams playing 15 minutes and scoring 11 points in the second half.
Taking a load off
With just under seven minutes remaining in the first half, E.J. Liddell, Sueing, Kyle Young, and Ahrens combined for one of the most fun plays I’ve seen from the Buckeyes in a long time.
After a Purdue miss, Liddell grabbed the rebound and turned to initiate the fast break by getting the ball to Sueing. However, while he was in the motion to pass, the Cal transfer fell down and received the pass from his backside. However, in one smooth motion, he passed it backwards to Young who threw a really impressive cross-court pass to Ahrens who hit one of his three triples on the game.
Or, as LGHL co-managing editor Gene Ross said in our Slack channel during the game, “Justice Sueing [got the] hockey assist from his ass. Run that play more, imo.”
This Ohio State team has a lot of really talented, multi-functional pieces. However, they don’t have a go-to player on offense, and without the key cog of an experienced point guard, when defenses turn up the pressure, points can become hard to come by. They are also woefully undersized in the paint, and despite a host of extremely competent post defenders, when they are up against a legitimate big man, they can’t rely on a single man to guard him; like they often did with Williams in the second half on Tuesday.
Fortunately for Holtmann’s squad, there are two months left before they get to the Big Dance, but they need to start addressing some of the glaring issues on both sides of the floor. Because even if Walker and/or Sotos does eventually return, the flaws will continue to be exposed by playing a full slate of games in the best conference in the country.