For the first time in several weeks, Thad Matta was fighting back a grin. There were just nine seconds remaining in overtime, and finally, his team looked to be earning a prominent victory.
Usually, any sort of tenuous lead late in a game is met with a stoic game face by the head coach until the final buzzer. But this time, though Matta did call a 30-second timeout after Turner's free throws to give final instructions to his squad, there was no absence of a smile.
Because Ohio State (18-12, 9-8 Big Ten) was about to break their four-game losing streak.
"I hope that this is a turning point," Matta said in his postgame press conference. "These guys have been so close so many times. We hope that they have more of a spirit to play here down the stretch."
After consecutive losses to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota, Matta was in danger of losing a fifth-straight game for the first time in his coaching career. Seniors Jamar Butler and Matt Terwilliger called, what wound up to be, an emotional team meeting Monday after what reportedly was one of Ohio State's best practices all season.
Needing a win to stop the bleeding, and a notable one at that for purposes of the NCAA Tournament, the Buckeyes wound up playing an inspired game against co-leader Purdue, working the announced sellout crowd of 19,049 into a buzz as the contest went down the stretch. After the Buckeyes were unable to get off a last-second shot in regulation, with the score tied 64-65, they regrouped and were able to pull off the upset in overtime.
It may have cost Purdue a chance at a Big Ten Championship. With just one game remaining for the Boilermakers, Purdue must hope for Wisconsin to lose against Penn State or Northwestern and beat the Wolverines in Ann Arbor in order to split the title.
The Buckeyes, meanwhile, have to keep the momentum going Sunday afternoon hosting Michigan State in the regular season finale. A win could get Ohio State back in serious discussion for an at-large bid. A loss may kill any momentary chances gained b y Tuesday night's thrilling victory.
It would help Ohio State, of course, to win at least a game or two in the Big Ten Tournament. The prospects aren't friendly. If the Buckeyes knock of Michigan State Sunday, it's likely the Buckeyes would again have to face the Spartans on Friday in the Big Ten Tournament as the 4-5 seeds.
But for now, Ohio State must concentrate on Sunday and parlay their restored confidence into another high-profile win.
As far as Purdue, it's unfortunate the Boilermakers lack a true post-presence. With one, it is quite possible Purdue would be one of the best teams in the country. But without, the Boilermakers were sometimes vulnerable to the match-up zone employed by Ohio State, lacking the ability to beat it down low.
More auspiciously for the Buckeyes is that they beat Purdue without playing their own low-post threat over the course of the last 11 minutes. Freshman 7-footer Kosta Koufos sat the bench with foul trouble late in the game while senior Terwilliger instead gained all of his minutes.
It wasn't really a knock on Koufos that he sat during crunch time, but rather a credit to Terwilliger who was proving invaluable because of his strong defensive efforts and terrific screening (both on and off the ball) for his friend Butler. It can be noted though the Buckeyes had much more offensive flow and fewer momentum-killers with Koufos on the bench, notably with the absence of his sometimes questionable shot-selection.
Instead, Butler, Turner and sophomore David Lighty beat the Boilermakers with a steady diet of penetration – something Ohio State fans have been clamoring to see all season long.
When Purdue Had the Ball
*Perhaps the biggest key to Purdue's success in the second half in keeping pace with the streaking Buckeyes was their ability to get the ball into the middle of the floor. As Ohio State extended their match-up zone against Purdue's offensive sets, which were spaced extremely high on the perimeter, the Boilermakers were able to run several cuts and screens to the middle of the floor. It earned them some wide-open jumpers from 15-feet. The problem, however, is that late in the game, Purdue went away from these shots a little bit – just enough to give Ohio State some key defensive stops.
*Scott Martin came up big for Purdue. It seems like possession after possession he was matching Ohio State's Butler for big shot after another. The 4-point play from the corner, as the first half buzzer sounded, could have been a rally-killer for Ohio State who, at the time, owned a one-point lead. In Martin's arsenal was a key 3-pointer from the corner, a fade-away baseline jumper with a hand in his face as the shot clock expired and a couple of clutch jumpers from the elbow. In total, Martin had 14 points and six rebounds, evenly spaced at all the right times.
*Though guard E'Twaun Moore totaled a team-high 16 points, the Buckeyes largely clamped-down on Moore in the second half. He made just 5-of-16 from the field, including 2-of-8 in the second half and overtime, though he did contribute four assists in that time. Moore killed the Buckeyes though when he elected to penetrate – creating several kick-out opportunities.
*Terwilliger and 6-9 senior Othello Hunter did a fantastic job defensively on the interior. Very few times all night did Purdue get a look inside, and when they did, they were blocked a total of seven times (three by Hunter). Against the smaller forwards, Terwilliger did perhaps his best job all season in rotating and covering a large area on defense.
When Ohio State Had the Ball
*About midway through the second half, it looked like the Buckeyes were going to lose a chance at winning because of missed opportunities on the free throw line. At one point in the second half, the Buckeyes were just 11-of-19 from the charity stripe and were missing several attempts when down 4-6 points. But then, late in the second half and overtime, Ohio State got hot. The Buckeyes made 12 of their last 13 attempts from the line. It can be argued, quite easily, Ohio State won the game at the line.
*With Purdue's best defensive guard Chris Kramer having picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, the Buckeyes capitalized. Holding Butler to just 2 points in the first half, Kramer could only watch as Butler went on for 23 points in the last 25 minutes of the game. Ohio State cleverly used that time to set screens off-the-ball for Butler, while he didn't have Kramer chasing him around. Additionally, the Buckeyes three times used Othello Hunter as a ball-screen, and instead of going around the defense's hedge, Butler reversed his field and either took an open 3-pointer or penetrated.
*Quietly playing one his best all-around games of the season, Lighty added 9 points, four assists and zero turnovers in 42 minutes. Lighty had a couple of clutch runners in the paint during the second half and was 4-of-9 from the field with four rebounds.
*Besides the heroics of Butler, it was Turner that also played some of his finest basketball. Picking and choosing his spots, Turner had 15 points, eight rebounds and a pair of blocked shots. He also added three assists and a steal. But it was Turner's penetration that Purdue was helpless to stop. The 3-point play by Turner with 3:28 left in regulation to get Ohio State to within a point and the made contested runner with 25 seconds left in overtime to give Ohio State a four-point lead were two of the biggest plays of the entire game. Both, in fact, were created with his ability to get to the rim.
*Last but not least, Hunter matched his work on the defensive end of the floor with a fine offensive game. The second-year junior college transfer added 15 points and six rebounds while going 5-of-7 from the field. Hunter also had a pair of crucial offensive rebounds in the second half and did a fine job without the ball in screening for Turner and Butler.