Desperately needing a victory to keep their dimming NCAA Tournament hopes alive, the Buckeyes hosted then-No. 16/19 Purdue on March 4. As has been the case for the majority of the season, OSU found itself in a neck-and-neck battle with its opponent. This time, it took overtime to decide the final outcome – and it was the Buckeyes who emerged on top, snapping a four-game losing streak.
But in a game full of surprises, one of the less-publicized ones had to do with the personnel employed by OSU down the stretch.
With the Buckeyes trailing 53-50 with 6:25 left in regulation, Koufos was replaced in the lineup by senior forward Matt Terwilliger. The move is far from uncommon, as Terwilliger has served as Koufos' primary replacement for the entire season, but the staying power of this particular replacement was telling.
As OSU fought back and forced overtime before pulling away for the three-point win against the Boilermakers, they did so with their prized freshman big man riding the pine.
Terwilliger played the remainder of regulation and all of the overtime period while Koufos could just watch. With his team's season hanging in the balance, Matta opted to go with his oft-maligned senior in place of the freshman pegged as a sure-fire first-round NBA draft pick following the season.
"I thought Matt was huge tonight," the coach said following the game. "Matt played a great basketball game. Really experience was something that he brought. He was very active defensively and had a pretty good feel for what was going on."
Those contributions Matta referred to did not make much of a showing on the final stat sheet. In 26 minutes of action – one off his season-high total set against Penn State on Jan. 5 – Terwilliger was 1 for 4 from the floor and finished with three points, three rebounds and one assist.
Koufos, in contrast, was 3 of 9 from the floor and had seven points and six rebounds in just 21 minutes of action.
For the freshman, it marked the first time in 13 games that he did not score 10 or more points. Against the Boilermakers, though, he looked more like the inconsistent freshman who struggled to adapt to Big Ten play early than the one who put up 21 points against Indiana senior D.J. White on the road in Bloomington, Ind., on Feb. 26.
In the Purdue game, Koufos committed two turnovers and three personal fouls while often looking out of sync near the basket.
In his place, Terwilliger was solid despite the fact that he picked up his fourth foul with 11:42 remaining. The production he posted is right in line with what he said he hopes to be able to provide to his teammates on a consistent basis.
"I try to just keep people's heads up," he said prior to the Purdue game. "Coach talks about the next-play mentality. When I'm out there, I've got to do what I can to help: play hard on defense, try to get deflections, blocks, rebounds."
For the season, Terwilliger has averaged 15.8 minutes per game in 30 contests, all as a reserve. He is posting 3.2 points and 2.5 rebounds per game and has shown the ability to occasionally step behind the three-point arc and knock down threes for the Buckeyes.
His lone basket against Purdue came at a crucial point in the game. With OSU trailing 62-60 with less than three minutes remaining, Terwilliger squared up from the baseline and netted a mid-range jumper, knotting the score at 62 with 2:11 remaining in regulation and bringing the sellout crowd at Value City Arena to its feet.
Afterward, Matta praised it as one of the biggest shots of the game.
While that was a more visible benefit that came from Terwilliger being on the floor, senior teammate Jamar Butler praised the continued effort his classmate has provided on a night-by-night basis in his unsung role as a reserve.
"He's a spark off the bench," Butler said. "As soon as he comes in for the game he lifts us up and gets us playing harder."