OSU Hoping To Reverse History Tonight

While Ohio State was struggling throughout the majority of the regular season last year, Purdue overcame some early obstacles and found ways to win while falling just short of a Big Ten title. It was a game against the Buckeyes that catapulted the Boilermakers into the Big Ten hunt. This year, OSU is hoping to turn the tables.

Last season, it was Ohio State that was at least partially responsible for the season Purdue put together.

That year, a Boilermaker team with five freshmen on the roster finished second in Big Ten play and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. A few hours east of Purdue's campus, a young OSU squad boasting five freshman and six new faces overall struggled to make that same leap, finishing fifth in the conference and ending up punching a ticket to the postseason NIT.

The two teams collided in West Lafayette while each boasting early unbeaten conference records, and a seven-point halftime lead for the Buckeyes turned into a seven-point victory for the Boilermakers.

That win was part of a two-game stretch that helped Purdue realize it could be a team to be reckoned with. It also ignited an 11-game conference winning streak for the Boilermakers, but it came after a close road loss to Michigan State during which freshman Robbie Hummel was held out due to injury.

That three-point loss infused the team with a newfound sense of confidence that enabled the Boilermakers to come from behind against OSU four nights later.

"Being able to get that Ohio State win after we didn't play that well in the first half, it kind of snowballed from there," Purdue head coach Matt Painter said. "I think that was a good win for us to give our guys confidence."

Heading into the game against the Buckeyes, Purdue looked anything but solid in the first part of the season. The Boilermakers suffered non-conference losses to Wofford and Iowa State, squeaked past Missouri State and had to rally to knock off Florida International prior to opening conference play.

The OSU game gave the Boilermakers a necessary shot in the arm. In Columbus, the game had the opposite effect.

"They played fearless," OSU sophomore guard Evan Turner said of Purdue. "They say the person who has no fear of dying is the person that wins the fight. They were getting a lot of love, but that happens and they've earned that. They took what's theirs. It's put up or shut up, and you can't get mad at that. They were doing something we weren't doing."

One thing they were doing was finding a way to adapt quickly to Big Ten play. The Buckeyes were struggling to forge an identity with players like Jamar Butler running the show. In addition, they were coping with the loss of three players to the NBA Draft.

"I think that for us, it was with all the departures that we had and losing six of your top seven players, it was more of an identity crisis for us of ‘who are we?' because everybody's gone," OSU head coach Thad Matta said. "We tried to turn to Jamar and say, ‘Hey, we need you,' but I think some of the new guys felt the wrath of, ‘Hey, I've got to be spectacular today.' I think that probably wore on us more than expectations or anything along those lines."

Tonight, those two teams square off for the first time (7 p.m. ESPN) as the Buckeyes hope to solidify a run toward a conference title beginning with the game against No. 16/17 Purdue.

Looking back, OSU junior forward David Lighty admitted to feeling some jealousy while seeing Purdue enjoy the success it experienced last year.

"They came together and clicked and made an impact on the Big Ten," he said. "They are coming in with their second year now trying to put it together and be one of the tough teams to play."

Now this year, the challenge for Purdue has been to build on the success it enjoyed last season. The Boilermakers were the preseason pick for team of the year and they entered the season with a bulls-eye on their back.

Conversely, the Buckeyes were not picked among the top three teams in the league to start the season as they again had to win with a roster boasting six new faces.

This year, the Boilermakers enter their first game against OSU second in the Big Ten with a 6-2 record. The Buckeyes sit in sixth place at 5-4 in conference play as they embark on a two-game homestand against two teams ranked higher than them in the conference standings.

The goal for this year's group of Buckeyes is to get what the Boilermakers had last season.

"It was different," Turner said. "I think my teammates and I are more jealous of them competing for a Big Ten championship. That's what we're all here to play for and that's what it's all about."

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