Following their second-round victory over Minnesota that was much closer than it needed to be, Ohio State (19-8, 12-8) has advanced to the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals versus a Purdue team that has already defeated them not once, but twice this season.
On the heels of a four-game losing streak that lasted exactly three weeks, Ohio State couldn’t afford to go one-and-done in the B1G tournament, and therefore enter the NCAA Tournament losers of five in a row. Minnesota (14-15, 6-14) went punch for punch with the Buckeyes for much of the afternoon, never leading but keeping them at arm’s length until the final few minutes.
With just under four minutes remaining, Justice Sueing’s free throws gave Ohio State a 14-point lead. But from there things got hairy, especially in the final 60 seconds. The Buckeyes held a nine-point lead with just over a minute to go, but Minnesota cut the deficit down to a single point in the final 30 seconds thanks to a combination of Marcus Carr heroics and Ohio State tomfoolery down the stretch. At the free throw line with 16 seconds remaining and down three points, Carr hit the first but missed his second, and E.J. Liddell came down with the rebound. Liddell was fouled and hit both free throws, cementing 5-seed Ohio State’s 79-75 victory over 13-seed Minnesota.
Survive and advance.
After knocking off the Gophers and potentially costing Richard Pitino his job, Ohio State now moves on to face 4-seed Purdue (18-8, 13-6), who have already beaten the Buckeyes twice this season. Ohio State opened Big Ten play against Purdue on Dec. 16 in West Lafayette and were defeated 67-60. Liddell was recovering from an illness and did not play, while Trevion Williams feasted on the Ohio State defense, flirting with a triple-double by registering 16 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists.
The two teams ran it back in Columbus on Jan. 19, and despite trailing by six at halftime, Purdue came back to beat the Buckeyes on their home court, 67-65. In an ugly, grind-it-out type of game that only a Purdue fan could love, the Boilermakers slowly chased Ohio State down throughout the second half, finally taking the lead on a Jaden Ivey step-back three- pointer with five seconds remaining. It was a game Ohio State seemingly had in the bag the whole evening, but only scored one point over the final 2:08, allowing Purdue to tie it — and then seal the deal on Ivey’s dagger.
The Buckeyes were outscored 36-8 in the paint that day, something the Boilermakers will look to replicate while Chris Holtmann is without a doubt scheming something up to reverse that trend in round three.
Ohio State’s offense wasn’t electric on Thursday afternoon but it was efficient — recording 19 assists on 28 made field goals while shooting 50% as a team. The Buckeyes scored 47 points in the paint as well, something they would love to carry over against the Boilermakers. The main bugaboo for the Buckeyes — especially in the final few minutes — were the turnovers. Ohio State coughed up the rock 15 times, their second highest total of the season. Had Ohio State even stuck to their season average of 10 turnovers, they’d have given themselves an additional five offensive possessions. That likely would have been enough to put this game away and avoid.... whatever it was we saw in the final 90 seconds yesterday.
If Ohio State takes care of the ball while also staying committed to working the paint as they did yesterday, they should have no problem improving on the 60 and 65 points they scored on Purdue during their two meetings this season.
Purdue, on the other hand, has no problem slowing things down and playing in the mud a little bit. If you felt like you needed a shower after watching Ohio State’s second loss to the Boilermakers, you’re not alone. Purdue is ranked No. 273 in adjusted tempo according to KenPom, making them one of the slowest-moving teams in the country. Armed with a pair of talented big men in Williams and 7-foot-4 Zach Edey, Purdue is content moving slowly to ensure a high percentage look for one of their centers before kicking out to someone like Sasha Stefanovic (41.5% 3PT) on the outside.
The Boilermakers bring it on the defensive end even more aggressively than they do offensively, and Ohio State learned this the hard way — especially during their last meeting. Purdue ranks No. 22 in adjusted defense, making them one of the best in the Big Ten Conference and the nation on that side of the floor.
Somewhat akin to the West Virginia teams of the mid 2010’s, Purdue gives their opponent little to no room to operate, think, or breathe, really. There were several moments during the Jan. 19 meeting where Ohio State turned the ball over on plays they believed were Purdue fouls, most notably a play late in the second half where Ivey got up close and personal with Seth Towns, ultimately leading to Towns losing the basketball.
The way to counter this style of play is for Ohio State to be uber-selective with their shots in the first half, building a lead just like they did against Minnesota. Do not allow Purdue to dictate the pace and style of play. Rather, put them in an early hole and force them to adjust. The Buckeyes aren’t speed demons, clocking in at No. 233 in tempo, but they’ve shown the ability to speed it up and play at any pace — most notably in their games against Iowa and Michigan.
A major key will be to get ahead early and dictate the pace of play, because moving fast isn’t something Purdue likes to do. Matt Painter and his staff would love to keep this game score in the 50’s or 60’s if possible. Ohio State can’t let that happen.
Additionally, Ohio State needs to get to the free throw line and make them. Ohio State led the Big Ten in free throw attempts for much of the season — one of the reasons KenPom has them as a top-five offense in the nation and the third-highest scoring team in the Big Ten. But during their recent four-game slide they averaged just over 14 free throw attempts per game, seven fewer than their season average. They hit them at a 73% clip, which is not bad, but still below their B1G-leading average of 77%.
Yesterday the Buckeyes got to the line a ton, but missed nine attempts, allowing Minnesota to creep back into the game in the closing moments. Their 28 attempts at the charity stripe is something they need to replicate this afternoon, but 19-of-28 isn’t going to cut it. Based on their success at the line so far this season, I think yesterday’s performance was an anomaly and I don’t believe it is a serious concern — yet.
In a perfect world, the Buckeyes jump out to an early double-digit lead and force Purdue to speed up during the first half, making them uncomfortable and leading to forced, bad shots. The tandem of Kyle Young and Liddell stick to Williams on the block like butter, and he has no choice but to defer to his teammates. Zach Edey gets in foul trouble as he tends to do, and Purdue’s fate winds up in the hands of freshmen Jaden Ivey and Brandon Newman.
Obviously, it won’t go like that.
I expect the game to be higher scoring than the first two meetings between these teams, and Ohio State should come out with a bit more energy and enthusiasm after their nail-biter against Minnesota. Winning a close game like that may be just what this team needed — they got the monkey off their back and finally won a game, and at the same time the coaching staff is going to absolutely ream them for their last-second collapse. I expect Ohio State to take much better care of the basketball tomorrow and I don’t expect them to miss nine free throws again, so there in itself you’ve got two easily correctable issues.
But even if Ohio State improves in the areas they lacked yesterday, Purdue is still gonna Purdue, and there will be moments the game gets messy. Trevion Williams will get his, there’s no stopping him for the most part. But if the Buckeyes can limit the supporting cast of Ivey, Newman, Edey, etc., they’ll have a great chance to avoid the three-game sweep and advance to the semifinals.