As everyone predicted on Tuesday, the Ohio State men’s basketball team is the talk of the college basketball world.
The No. 13 seed Buckeyes (16-18, 5-15) have won three games in three days, and now David is going to get a shot at Goliath as the No. 1 seed Purdue Boilermakers (27-5, 15-5) await in the 2023 Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
The Buckeyes started the week off by defeating the No. 12 seed Wisconsin Badgers 65-58 after leading by 27 points at one point in the game. They then defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes 73-69, and defeated the No. 4 seed Michigan State 68-58 in the quarterfinals last time out.
Now, the Buckeyes will take on the Purdue Boilermakers, a team they lost to twice in the regular season, and the first game turned out to be an important one to the Buckeyes.
The first game against Purdue was a loss that sent the Buckeyes into a complete tailspin. Entering that game, Ohio State was 10-3 overall, 2-0 in conference play and coming off a double-digit win over Northwestern — a team that ended up finishing second in the conference.
The Buckeyes looked poised to beat Purdue, leading them by five with just 50 seconds left, but an untimely turnover and a Fletcher Loyer three-pointer late in the game gave Purdue the win. The Buckeyes lost Zed Key to injury in that game, and would lose their next four games and 13 of their next 14 overall, turning a seemingly promising season into a complete disaster.
Can the Buckeyes get their payback on Saturday and continue this dream run as the lowest seed to ever advance this far in the Big Ten Tournament?
When it comes to Purdue, everything starts with Zach Edey. The National Player of the Year candidate is the engine that makes Purdue go, and is almost impossible to stop when he gets the ball in the paint. Edey averages almost 22 points and 12 rebounds per game.
Purdue is the top seed in the conference tournament, so they had a double-bye and played their first game on Friday, defeating No. 9 Rutgers 70-65. Edey finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Mason Gillis finished with 20 points and nine rebounds.
Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer have been a great dynamic duo in the backcourt this season for Matt Painter and company, but they struggled in their first Big Ten Tournament game. Smith finished with eight points and Loyer finished with four points — all from the free-throw line. They combined to go 0-for-6 from behind the three-point line.
For the Buckeyes, a big question will be the health of star freshman Brice Sensabaugh. Sensabaugh, who is leading the team in scoring at 16.3 points per game, did not play against Michigan State after hurting his knee late in the game against Iowa. He was evaluated again overnight, and will likely be a game time decision.
In his absence, the other freshmen all stepped up. Roddy Gayle Jr. finished with a career-high 13 points, while Felix Okpara finished with eight points, eight rebounds and five blocks. Bruce Thornton continued his incredible play with 21 points, six assists and four rebounds. Justice Sueing added 14 points and knocked down four three-pointers.
At this point, we have to ride with the Buckeyes for the weekend. I am picking them to beat Purdue. The question is, how do they do it?
Honestly, the answer of how to do it is pretty simple, it is just the small matter of executing it. You have to make someone not named Zach Edey beat you. Edey is an incredible talent. He is 7-foot-4, can make any post move, has solid footwork and shoots almost 80 percent from the charity stripe, so you can’t just foul him and put him on the free throw line.
Smith and Loyer are incredibly talented, but they are freshmen guards who have not played in this atmosphere before. They both struggled against Rutgers and the pressure that the Scarlet Knights were able to put on them. Edey will get his points and rebounds, but if Okpara can stay out of foul trouble and at least make him work for it and the guards can put the pressure on their guards on the perimeter, the Buckeyes can keep themselves in it.
And most importantly, they need to keep playing with this confidence and like they have nothing to lose, because they still don’t.
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET