Ohio State hit the road for the first time in conference play on Sunday night. Having little trouble with Northwestern, the Buckeyes beat the Wildcats 73-57 in Evanston. Ohio State jumped out on Northwestern early, building a 14-3 advantage on their way to a 35-17 lead as the teams hit the halftime break. The Bucks didn’t let up in the second half, keeping Northwestern at bay to earn their second conference win of the season.
Brice Sensabaugh continued his sensational freshman season, leading the Buckeyes with 18 points. Along with Sensabaugh’s output, Sean McNeil hit three triples on his way to 15 points. Justice Sueing did a little bit of everything, scoring 13 points, grabbing six rebounds, and dishing out five assists. Zed Key registered his fifth double-double of the season, and first since the win over Rutgers, adding 11 points and 11 rebounds to the cause.
After so many trips to Ryan Arena that have came down to the final shot, it was nice to have an Ohio State win that was easy from start to finish, especially after the pain that many Buckeye fans had to endure less than 24 hours before when the Ohio State football team failed to beat Georgia in the Peach Bowl. The Buckeye defense smothered the Wildcats, only allowing Northwestern to hit 28 percent of their shots from the field. Ohio State also did strong work on the boards, outrebounding Northwestern 46-37.
With not only his 18 points against the Wildcats, but also his 21 points on Thursday in the win over Alabama A&M, Sensabaugh now has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the third straight week. The standout from Florida joins Jared Sullinger and D’Angelo Russell as the only Buckeyes to earn the honor in three consecutive weeks. Sensabaugh leads Ohio State in scoring with 15.9 points per game, and is hitting nearly 47 percent of his three-point attempts.
The 24th-ranked Buckeyes (10-3, 2-0) will now return home to take on Purdue (13-1, 2-1), who entered the week as the nation’s top ranked team before losing to Rutgers on Monday night. The teams met once last year, with Purdue earning an 81-78 win in West Lafayette. Ohio State trailed by 20 points in the second half before staging a furious comeback that was capped off by an E.J. Liddell three-pointer with 25 seconds to go to tie the game. Purdue answered with a three-pointer from Jaden Ivey at the buzzer to earn the victory.
Tonight’s game will mark the 22nd time Ohio State has taken on a top-ranked AP Top 25 team. The Buckeyes have a 10-11 record all-time against the top team in the nation, but have been strong of late in big games like this, winning eight of their last 11 games against the No. 1 team in the country. The last time Ohio State took on the top ranked team in the nation was last year in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, topping Duke 71-67 in Columbus.
Unlike Ohio State, Purdue isn’t coming into this game on a winning note. After a 13-0 start, the Boilermakers suffered their first loss of the season on Monday night when they lost at Mackey Arena to Rutgers, 65-64. Purdue trailed 34-24 at halftime, but closed the gap in the second half, with the lead changing hands a number of times in the last five minutes of the game.
Fletcher Loyer’s three-pointer with 30 seconds to go gave the Boilermakers a 64-62 lead. The Scarlet Knights answered with a three-pointer from Cam Spencer with 14 seconds left to take back the lead. Purdue got one last shot at keeping their record perfect on the season, but Brandon Newman’s three-pointer with three seconds left in the game didn’t fall. Zach Edey finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds in the loss. The big Canadian now has six straight games with a double-double and 11 on the season.
Zed Key is going to have to be at the top of his game tonight, since Edey is a handful on both ends of the court. The junior has been outstanding all year long, but his performance against Minnesota really stands out. When the Boilermakers hosted the Golden Gophers, Edey recorded career-highs with 31 points and 22 rebounds. With the dominance he has shown on the court this year, Edey is going to be in the conversation for National Player of the Year honors at the end of the season.
The loss continued a couple trends from Purdue. In their last 12 losses, the Boilermakers have lost eight of these games by three points or fewer. Purdue also has had a problem with teams from New Jersey over the last few years. Since the 2019-20 season, the Boilermakers are just 1-6 against teams from the Garden State.
An area Purdue is going to try and exploit is their dominance at the free throw line. So far this year, the Boilermakers have made 248 free throws while their opponents have only attempted 150 free throws. Teams have had a tough time dealing with the size of Edey, with the big man attempting 104 free throws so far this season.
While Purdue has been great at generating points at the free throw line, lately they have been ice cold behind the three-point line. Over their last five gams, Purdue is hitting just 23 percent of their triples, with 29 of their 121 three-point attempts falling during that span. The Boilermakers have had two games this year where they have failed to reach 20 percent in three-point percentage. In the win over Austin Peay in the second game of the season, Purdue saw just two of their 19 three-point attempts fall, and more recently against Davidson, only three of 25 attempts from long range went in.
Brice Sensabaugh won’t be the only winner of multiple Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards this year in this contest. Fletcher Loyer has earned the honor twice this season. in his first two Big Ten games, Loyer scored 20 points and dished out eight assists against Minnesota. Six days later, Loyer recorded a career-high 22 points against Nebraska. The Buckeyes will have to keep an eye on Loyer behind the three-point line. Loyer hit five triples in his first college game, and in late November he hit four threes in the win over Duke in Portland.
Rounding out the key contributors for Purdue are guards Braden Smith and Brandon Newman, as well as center Caleb Furst. Smith has strong all-around skills, averaging 8.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. While Smith might not put up huge numbers, he feels like the glue that keeps the team together on the floor, just like Justice Sueing is for Ohio State.
While Zach Edey gets most of the attention for Purdue, the Buckeyes will also have their hands full with Caleb Furst. The sophomore is just a couple inches shy of seven-feet tall, giving the Boilermakers a bit of twin towers action when paired with Edey. Furst has started to find his scoring touch as the season has gone on. After not reach double figures in the first four games of the season, Furst has now scored at least 10 points six times in the last 10 games.
Earning a win over Purdue isn’t going to be easy, but what game in the Big Ten is? It’s quite obvious what Ohio State has to do if they want to hand the Boilermakers their second straight loss: slow down Zach Edey.
The 7-foot-4 center from Toronto is who Purdue will try and feature early and often in the offense. The key for the Buckeyes is going to be Zed Key. Even though Key will give up size to Edey, he has the athletic talent to at least slow down the Purdue big man. Key will have to be careful to not get into foul trouble, or else it could be a long night for Ohio State.
If the Buckeyes are able to at least slow down Edey, it will force Purdue to look to the perimeter for their offense, which isn’t something that hasn’t worked out well for the Boilermakers of late. If Ohio State can force Purdue to take some three-pointers instead of getting the ball onto the block with Edey, Chris Holtmann has to feel great about his team’s chances in this game.
Even though Purdue comes into this game ranked No. 1 in the country, Ohio State has plenty of experience against top teams in the nation, so the moment won’t be too big for them. Buckeye teams usually find a way to reach another level when they hosted top ranked teams, so the game being at Value City Arena is an advantage, which sometimes isn’t the case in less games where the atmosphere falls flat.
While Purdue certainly has the size advantage in this game, the sum of Ohio State’s parts feel like they are greater. Not only do the Buckeyes have an outstanding freshman with Brice Sensabaugh, they also have veteran players like Justice Sueing, Issac Likekele, and Sean McNeil, who come up big when needed, and do a bit of everything on the court. Right now it feels like this Buckeye team is playing together a little better, where the Boilermakers might be doubting themselves a bit after losing their first game of the year on Monday night.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 68.5%
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET