“The pieces have sort of come together and everybody understands what their job is on the team,” Buckeyes’ head coach Thad Matta said.
The Ohio State coach said that when asked about why the Boilermakers (14-8, 6-3) have been playing their best basketball lately, but Matta could have easily been talking about his own squad.
Both Purdue and the Buckeyes (17-5, 6-3) will enter tomorrow’s contest on a three-game winning streak. They are two of five teams tied for second place in a crowded Big Ten and both teams also appear to be playing their best basketball. How they are doing that, however, could not be more different.
While the Buckeyes have been led by D’Angelo Russell and a new, smaller starting lineup as well as a center-less lineup that has logged 43 of 80 minutes in the last two games, the Boilermakers have relied on their post play.
Purdue boasts a pair of 7-foot centers in A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, the most imposing front line in the Big Ten. Hammons averages 11.0 points per game and 6.1 rebounds. Hass has put up 9.2 points per contest with 4.0 rebounds in a reserve role.
Matta has called for more productivity out of his post players all year and inserted the 6-9 Anthony Lee into the starting lineup for the last three games. Amir Williams, who has started 18 games this season, has played a total of just 15 minutes in the Buckeyes last three wins.
Point guard Shannon Scott said that the team will need Williams to play well against Purdue, but that it isn’t all on the senior big man.
“We’re going to need everybody,” he said. “We can’t stop their two big men with just one player. Anthony knows that, Amir knows that and Trey (McDonald) knows that. We’re all going to be ready for that and the guards have to do a good job of keeping the ball out of the paint, that’s where it all starts from. We all have to be ready for that.”
Matta said he was unsure who would get the start at center against the Boilermakers and was also unsure if he would be able to employ his small lineup, one that features two 6-7 wings as the nominal bigs, against the imposing front line of Purdue.
Regardless of who plays for the Buckeyes, the team has hit their stride recently with three big wins. Lee agreed that, like the Boilermakers, it’s a product of every player knowing their role.
“After we had lost again to Iowa we had to look at ourselves in the mirror and just really find out what our identity is,” he said. “I think we know our identity is: play pretty fast, get the ball up and down the court. We have our star player in D’Angelo Russell so he knows that he makes good decisions. The perimeter game, a lot of people have stepped up and done things pretty well and I think that’s what has catapulted us getting into a good winning streak.”
The Buckeyes will look to continue that streak – and snap that of the Boilermakers – as they begin a stretch where four of their five games are on the road.
Matta acknowledged that challenge, but knows there are no excuses in Big Ten play.
“That’s what you sign up for when you come to the Ohio State University and I want guys that embrace that challenge,” Matta said. “I say, ‘Hey, we’ve got four out of five on the road, at some point we are going to get some at home and let’s put ourselves in position to defend our home court.’”