This isn’t last year’s Boilermakers. Purdue (19-9, 11-4) has won its last four games and eight of its last nine (including a two-point win over Ohio State) and will look to continue that streak tomorrow against Ohio State.
The renaissance has been in congress with the development of junior center A.J. Hammons. The 7-footer is averaging 11.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game. He was instrumental when the Boilermakers topped Ohio State 60-58 in West Lafayette on Feb. 4.
Hammons had seven points, seven rebounds and seven blocks in that win over Ohio State (20-8, 9-6) and along with reserve 7-2 center Isaac Haas kept Ohio State out of the lane and left Buckeye penetrators tentative.
Senior point guard Shannon Scott said that attacking a team with Purdue's imposing size is a balance.
“Just being smart on our drives," he said. "If Hammons is coming to block the shot obviously Amir (Williams), Trey (McDonald) or Anthony (Lee) are going to be open so we’ve got to find a way to get them the ball if he’s coming over all the time.”
Ohio State will have to contend with more than just Hammons to get past the Boilermakers. Rapheal Davis averages 10.9 points per game and torched the Buckeyes for 20 in the early February win.
Much of Davis' production and Purdue's easy baskets throughout the game came on the pick and roll. Matta said he is troubled by the team's inconsistencies in defending that action.
"It’s funny, if you had been in film yesterday you would have seen the same guys guard in one way in one game and another way the next game so we are hoping we guard it the right way," he said.
Ohio State was able to stay in that game with Purdue thanks to D’Angelo Russell as the freshman scored 20 points with seven rebounds and five assists. The only other Buckeye to score in double figures was Amir Williams who scored 10.
Russell has been dealing with cramps for the last few games and that, combined with an illness that the freshman has been dealing with all week kept him out for the final 12:44 of Ohio State’s 81-57 win over Nebraska.
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said that Russell could have returned to the game against the Cornhuskers had it been in doubt, but thought he would be better served to rest in preparation for the Boilermakers. While Russell is expected to be full-go for Purdue, Lee will once again be out with a groin injury.
Good thing for the Buckeyes is that tomorrow’s game is at home. Ohio State has been a different team inside Value City Arena this year, posting a 17-1 record in Columbus with a 5-1 mark in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes have won their last six home games, scoring an average of 77.7 points in those contests.
Their most recent victory, the 24-point triumph over Nebraska on Thursday, showed what the Buckeyes can be at their best. Ohio State played with defensive intensity, generating 12 turnovers and scoring 17 points off those miscues. The Buckeyes got out and ran, scoring 15 points on the fast break. Perhaps most importantly, Ohio State was balanced as four players scored in double figures.
That scoring was led by Jae’Sean Tate who posted a career-high 22 while Sam Thompson added 15 with a 3-for-3 mark from behind the three-point line. That type of performance will need to continue if the Buckeyes are to round into form with just three regular season games left, a transformation that needs to continue against the Boilermakers.
Matta said that his team is better than they were when they faced Purdue in early February, in part thanks to the return of Marc Loving from suspension. But whether or not the Buckeyes perform at their best can be a coin flip.
"I want the consistency," Matta said. "I think that is going to be the question, who will we be tomorrow night? For that game, having Marc Loving back is huge. Seeing Marc bang a couple threes Thursday night, I am hoping like crazy that he is back and ready to go. His defense was 100 times better Thursday than it was Sunday. Hopefully he is hitting his stride. Jae’Sean Tate has grown.
"We’re a better team, they’re a better team. There is no doubt about that.”