Ohio State has played well enough of late to believe it could be in for more success at the Big Ten tournament.
The 19th-ranked and No. 7 seed Buckeyes begin that quest Thursday night in Indianapolis against a 10th-seeded Purdue squad that needs a deep run this week, at least, to earn an NCAA Tournament bid.
It’s been an interesting season for Ohio State (21-10), which opened 9-0, then lost seven of 10 before going 9-3 during the final push of the league campaign. Though the Buckeyes’ four-game winning streak ended with an 80-69 loss at surging Michigan State on Sunday, coach Chris Holtmann seems cautiously optimistic his team can make a deep run in this tournament — and the next one.
“You know how it is when you get to tournament play. It’s really just how you play in the that 40-minute stretch,” Holtmann said.
“We have obviously had a very good five or six weeks. … Tremendous credit to our guys down the stretch. … We tried to own how we could get better. We’ve seen great progress, and now it is win and go home. We have to see if we can just continue to grow.”
Despite allowing Michigan State to reach 80 points and shoot 48.3 percent, the Buckeyes have been one of the Big Ten’s top defensive teams, allowing 62.9 points per game and holding opponents to 39.7 percent shooting. Offensively, star Kaleb Wesson averages a team-high 14.0 points per game (plus 9.3 rebounds), but was held to just eight points at Michigan State.
Sophomore guard Duane Washington Jr. (11.5 ppg) has averaged 14.5 points over the last six games. Junior CJ Walker (8.7 ppg), meanwhile, is scoring 13.7 and averaging 4.3 assists per contest over the same stretch.
Junior starter Kyle Young, whom the Buckeyes hope to have back from an ankle issue, had 16 points with seven rebounds as Wesson added 13 with eight boards, four assists and four steals in a 68-52 home win over Purdue on Feb. 15. Ohio State shot 48.9 percent (9 of 20 from 3-point range) in that contest, while holding the Boilermakers to 35.2 percent and 4 of 20 from beyond arc. Purdue also committed 16 turnovers.
A loss Thursday would essentially end Purdue’s NCAA Tournament hopes, but the squad likely needs to make a serious run in Indianapolis, if not run the table, to get off the bubble. The Boilermakers (16-15) have five wins over ranked teams this season, but lost five of their final seven games of the regular season, including 71-68 at home in overtime to Rutgers on Saturday.
“You can’t make a run unless you win your first game,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “Just try to focus on us, and try to play better than we played that day in Columbus.”
Purdue has averaged just 65.4 points and shot 38.5 percent (24.8 from 3-point range) over the last seven games. Forward Trevion Williams (11.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg) is the Boilermakers’ top scorer, but he’s scored only 17 points combined in the last two games.
He was held to jus four points at Ohio State last month. Teammate Evan Boudreaux scored 17 against the Buckeyes.
Ohio State, which last won the Big Ten tournament in 2013, is 3-1 versus Purdue in this event. The Boilermakers’ only tournament title came in 2009, but they’ve reached the championship game twice in the last four years.
–Field Level Media