The Ohio State freshman cut through the Purdue defense and attacked over 7-foot center A.J. Hammons to score with 59.2 seconds left, giving the Buckeyes a 60-59 lead over the Boilermakers that they wouldn’t surrender. Russell, who finished with a game-high 28 points, scored 17 in the second half to rally the Buckeyes (21-8, 10-6) back from a 12-point halftime deficit for a 65-61 victory over Purdue (21-8, 10-6) in front of 15,978 at Value City Arena.
“When we came to that play I was just trying to attack him,” D’Angelo Russell said of Hammons as the center had four fouls at the time. “I thought he was going to make contact or block it which is what he was doing in the first half and throughout the game and he didn’t go for it. I just made a move in the air and it went in.”
The go-ahead layup form Russell was followed by a block at the other end from Amir Williams – one of three on the night to match Hammons for the game high – and the Buckeyes hit five of six free throws from there to close out the game.
As has been the case for much of the season, it was a tale of two halves Sunday as Ohio State went to intermission trailing the Boilermakers 35-23. Though he had 11 points in the first half, Russell really went to work in the second.
After a Jae’Sean Tate layup opened the second-half scoring, Russell trimmed the Ohio State deficit to single digits with a layup less than two minutes into the second half, making it 35-27. The Boilermakers answered and margin hovered around 10 for the next five minutes before a steal and transition dunk from Sam Thompson made it 42-35 and brought the crowd to their feet.
The teams traded baskets before Russell started a stretch where he scored or assisted on 12 of Ohio States next 15 points. The latter half of that spurt came as part of a 14-4 run as Russell free throws made it 54-50 Ohio State with 4:52 remaining.
Purdue responded with four straight points to tie the game, part of three lead changes and two ties in the game’s final 4:06.
“The biggest key was we got back to doing what we needed to do,” Matta said of the comeback. “I thought defensively we were a lot more effective with our length and our athleticism. Sam's rip at half court for a finish was a big-time play and got us kind of ignited. Shannon (Scott), nobody would ever see it but he did some things defensively tonight via scouting that were tremendous and really disrupted them.
“Those guys are a load inside and we were one foul from being in a small-ball situation. But I thought Amir was, three blocked shots, was as good as he could be. D'Angelo got on a roll in there in the second half. It was a great win.”
While Russell and his 28 points were the story of the game, the referees made their presence known. Struggling to defend Hammons and reserve 7-2 center Isaac Haas, Trey McDonald fouled out of the game with 5:13 remaining. That forced Williams to play the final stretch with four fouls while Russell had four for the final 2:24. Hammons and Jon Octeus finished with four fouls apiece for Purdue.
The victory improves Matta to 13-0 in March home games and brings the Buckeyes to 18-1 in Value City Arena this season. It was the Buckeyes second straight victory and moved the team into a three-way tie for fourth place in the Big Ten with Iowa and Michigan State.
“Every win counts and any win can trigger a run and just getting this win on our home court is great,” “Russell said. Going now to Penn State and having the confidence everybody is putting something on the table and playing our best basketball. We’re making our strides forward and there’s no room to go backwards.”
The comeback was necessary because of sloppy play from the Buckeyes and hot shooting from the Boilermakers in the first half.
Russell scored the team’s first eight points, opening the scoring with a three just over two minutes into the game, while Hammons scored the first seven for the Boilermakers. Purdue took its first lead when an Ohio State turnover, one of eight in the first half, led to a Basil Smotherman layup. They built on that lead thanks to some excellent outside shooting.
The Boilermakers entered the game making 5.5 threes a game on the season, but hit six in the first half (and finished with eight). Four of those came on consecutive possessions to turn a 14-11 deficit into a 23-17 advantage with 5:43 left in the first half.
Free throws from Thompson and a three by Russell moved it to 25-22 Purdue with 4:03 left, but Ohio State would not hit another field goal in the half and go to the break down 35-23.
“One thing was that they were making a lot of shots,” Thompson said of the halftime adjustments. “I think at one point they made four 3s in a row and we knew they weren’t going to keep shooting the ball like that, we knew we weren’t going to keep shooting 26 percent. We had to play a little harder, had to play a little tougher, but just weathered the storm and finish the game.”
As Thompson alluded to, the Buckeyes shot just 26.9 percent in the first half. They rebounded to connect at a 54.5 percent clip after intermission.
Thompson scored nine points in the second half to join Russell in double figures for the game with 14. Purdue, meanwhile, was led by 16 from Hammons and 15 from Rapheal Davis.
The win avenges a two-point loss to Purdue from early February and Matta said it was nice to see his team come out on the right side of a comeback.
“We talked about it today at shootaround, it’s March. You got to find ways to win basketball games,” Matta said. “You've got to make plays. I thought guys did a good job of that. We were fortunate to get back in it and kind of chipped away, chipped away. As I was telling them, it’s a ball game now.”
Ohio State faces Penn State Wednesday at 6 p.m.