Ohio State began Big Ten play with a 75-70 loss at Illinois on New Year’s Day. The Buckeyes’ next opportunity of getting their first league victory comes Thursday night when they host No. 20 Purdue.
The Boilermakers (12-3, 1-1) are coming off a loss as well. Minnesota spoiled their New Year’s by winning, 91-82, in overtime. Purdue was on a seven-game winning streak before falling to the Golden Gophers at home.
The Boilers’ other two defeats were against Louisville and defending national champion Villanova, both of which are currently ranked in the top ten.
They will come to Columbus owning the second-best scoring offense (84.5 points per game) in the Big Ten. Indiana leads the league at an 85.3-ppg clip.
Ohio State (10-4, 0-1), meanwhile, is fourth in the conference in scoring defense, allowing an average of 63.9 ppg while holding the opposition to a 38.3 field-goal percentage. The Buckeye defense, however, will have the tall task of trying to contain sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan. The All-American candidate is averaging 18.5 points and 13.0 rebounds per contest and has had four 20-20 games this year.
“I think he’s playing extremely well right now,” OSU head coach Thad Matta said Wednesday of the 6-9, 250-pounder. “Statistically, numbers, percentages, that sort of thing, he is producing at a very, very high level. He’s definitely not one guy that can be stopped alone. Everybody has got to be aware of where he is and what he’s doing, coming to the offensive glass and making sure we understand what he wants to do in the post when he catches it and those types of things. He’s playing at a very, very high level, there’s no question about it.”
The Scarlet and Gray does not present a dominant scorer like Purdue does so with Swanigan, but Ohio State does have a balanced offensive attack. Five players are scoring 10 or more points a game this season. Junior forward Jae’Sean Tate leads the way with 13.9 ppg. Senior forward Marc Loving is next (11.6), followed by sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle (11.9), junior guard Kam Williams (10.8) and junior center Trevor Thompson (10.4).
“We really try to spread the ball around,” Loving said Wednesday. “We want to be the team that’s hard to scout for other teams. Most teams have one or two guys who do a majority of the scoring or have the ball the majority of the time. Moving the ball is something that we really want to key on. So just making it difficult for other teams really.”
Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop is putting up 9.7 ppg for the Buckeyes while he is still recovering from an ankle injury suffered in November.
Ohio State is searching for its first win vs. a ranked opponent this year as well. The Buckeyes lost to then-No. 6 Virginia, 63-61, on Nov. 30 and to then-No. 2 UCLA, 86-73, on Dec. 17.
Luckily for Matta’s club, Purdue has had an extremely difficult time winning on the Buckeyes’ court. The Boilermakers are just 1-13 in Value City Arena all-time. The single victory was a 60-57 triumph in the 2009-10 season. Purdue has lost the last four contests at OSU’s current facility by an average of 12.0 points per game.
“I think that it’s easier said than done,” Matta said of protecting home court during conference play. “‘We’re home, this ought to be easy.’ It doesn’t quite work that way. When you’re playing a team like Purdue, I think they’re really, really good, we’ve got to do all the little things for 40 minutes. There can’t be letdowns because they shoot it too well and, obviously, their post-game is too good.”
The Buckeyes go back on the road after their meeting with Purdue. They will first play at Minnesota on Sunday and then travel to Wisconsin to take on the 13th-ranked Badgers on Jan. 12.