The Purdue coach will retire following this season after 25 years at the helm. He has led several winning teams, but this year the Boilermakers are just 5-13 overall and 1-6 in the Big Ten.
Ohio State (14-7, 3-4) will host Purdue Wednesday at 8 p.m. The Buckeyes are coming off their second straight win – a 65-52 victory at Northwestern Saturday. They trailed 51-43 late in the second half, but closed the game with an impressive 22-1 run.
Purdue finally got its first Big Ten win of the season Saturday when it crushed Michigan 84-55 in West Lafayette.
You knew a Keady-led team wasn't going to stay down for too long.
"I think Purdue is playing as well as they've played this year," OSU coach Thad Matta said. "Obviously, they've shown they can play some really good basketball. Their record right now I don't think is any indication of the team they really are. Watching them on tape, they're playing great basketball right now."
Purdue is led by 6-7 junior forward Carl Landry – a junior college transfer. He is the leading scorer in the conference at 18.9 points per game, and also leads PU in rebounding at 7.4 per game.
The rest of the Boilermakers' starting lineup includes: 6-5 junior guard/forward David Teague (13.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg), 6-2 senior guard Brandon McKnight (12 ppg, 3.9 assists per game), 6-10 junior center Matt Kiefer (10.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and 6-3 junior guard Xavier Price (3.6 ppg).
Matta grew up rooting for Purdue (and Indiana) and was asked what type of relationship he has with Keady.
"Honestly, I haven't had a whole lot of dealings with him," he said. "I think we had gone against him twice when I was at Xavier. But I really believe he is a hall of fame coach. Twenty-five years and what he has done at Purdue is really remarkable. I hope someday that I could do the job that he's done there, here. It's been a great run for him."
Purdue's players do not want to see Keady go out as the coach of the last-place team in the conference. Therefore, they are going to be a dangerous team from this point on.
"No question," Matta said. "I think so. He's such a great coach and has earned so much respect that obviously his players are giving it their all for him."
Ohio State shook up its starting lineup for the Northwestern game. Senior guard Tony Stockman and Brandon Fuss-Cheatham took a seat, while junior Je'Kel Foster and freshman Jamar Butler were given the start.
It turned out to be just the jump-start that Butler's game needed. He hit a 3-pointer in the opening moments of the game – his first basket in Big Ten play – and finished with a season-high 10 points.
Matta said he was not concerned that switching the lineup would have negative effects on Stockman and Fuss-Cheatham.
"No, I really didn't," he said. "I think that these guys are a close-knit group, they want to win, they want to do well, they want to play their best basketball. So, I wasn't really concerned with it. And as I've said all along with this team, starting, yeah, I think it means more to the fans and that sort of thing. But our guys, if you look at the minutes, they are going to play the same amount of minutes. I've never been a guy that puts a whole lot into who is going to start the game, or anything like that. Who plays the final 10 minutes of a game is a whole lot more important that who starts it."
Matta says he got the result he was looking for with Foster and Butler in the starting five.
"Yeah, we did," he said. "You look and we got off to a 7-0 start. But in the Penn State game we got off to an 11-1 start. One of my biggest concerns is getting off to a good start. That's something that we did well early in the season, but we kind of went through a lull there after the Illinois game, or maybe the Iowa game. So, being able to continue doing that is important for us."
If the Buckeyes defeat the Boilermakers, they would move to .500 in Big Ten play.
"I think that's important for this team," Matta said. "I think with two home games this week (Michigan on Saturday), one thing about going into conference play is that you always want to protect your home court. That's why it's so valuable to go on the road and sneak a win here and there. I think if we can get to .500, that would be a huge step for us."
Junior center Terence Dials continues to lead OSU in scoring (15.4) and rebounding (8.1). Dials' production has dropped off a little bit lately, but others are picking up the slack.
Junior forward J.J. Sullinger is coming off his best game of the season with 15 points and eight rebounds against Northwestern. Overall, he is averaging 10.5 points and 5.7 rebounds.
Matta says he has come to expect a different Buckeye to step up each game.
"I think with this team, we have a history of each game has been a little different," he said. "I go back to four years ago at Butler, we never had the same guy lead us in scoring two games in a row. And I kind of view this team that way a little bit in terms of who is going to play well on a particular night."
Sullinger really seems to be hitting his stride. He is the most athletic player on the team and has cut down on the mental mistakes this season.
"I think this with James: I think he's playing very hard," Matta said. "And I told him after the Penn State game – he only played 16 minutes, but had 10 points and six rebounds – I told him, I said, ‘I went back and watched the tape and you really, really played hard. He's doing a great job of competing. I thought at the end of the (Northwestern) game, he rebounding was tremendous. We have to continue to bring that along with him because I think that is something he can give us and he does well at it."
Sullinger says he is feeling more comfortable with each passing game. "I'm just playing with confidence and just trying to be a part of what we do," he said. "The way we played the last two games – the way I played – we should play like that all the time."
Sullinger says the Buckeyes need to pick up a couple of wins this week.
"We want to defend our home court – that's our main concern right now," he said. "We've got two big ones coming up. Two that we think we can get and two that we want to get. That's what we're working on."
Sullinger will enjoy going up against Keady for the final time (unless the teams meet in the Big Ten Tournament).
"Purdue has a lot going for them in the sense that they're coming off a big win against Michigan," Sullinger said. "This is Gene Keady's last year and those guys are playing extremely hard for them, trying to make his year a memorable one, although they had some tough ones early on. But they haven't quit at all. You can see them fighting every game and we just have to match their intensity and try to outwit them, I guess. Just play hard and protect our home floor. "They have a good junior college transfer (Landry) who is averaging like 20 points during Big Ten games. Then you got David Teague, he was hurt early in the season with that hand injury, but he's coming along strong now. And they've got Kiefer. They've definitely got some guys that can mix it up with us. But we've got some guys that can play too. So, we're looking forward to the challenge."
Notes: The game will be televised on ONN beginning at 8 p.m. … If you live in Ohio and have cable, but do not have ONN, the game will be shown on one of the access channels (Ch. 24 for Time Warner in Columbus). … Stockman and his girlfriend welcomed their newborn son to the world last Thursday. However, the baby is still in the hospital in serious condition. Matta commented on Stockman: "He has been through a lot and I think the big thing for him is getting back, getting focused and playing his best basketball because it's really starting to wind down for him. There is no mistake, we need Tony to play well for us."