Game Preview: No. 15 Ohio State vs. Purdue

Here is an inside look as the Buckeyes and the Boilermakers as they prepare for their second conference matchup on Tuesday in Columbus.
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After a quick trip out to Champaign that saw the Buckeyes come away with their biggest win of the season, No. 15 Ohio State (11-3) puts its three-game winning streak and unblemished home record on the line when it hosts Purdue (10-5) on Tuesday evening before hitting the road again on Saturday to take on Wisconsin.

The Buckeyes and the Boilermakers faced off on December 16 to open up Big Ten action with Purdue coming out on top, 67-60. Ohio State star forward E.J. Liddell missed that game while recovering from mononucleosis.

Location: Columbus, Ohio
Game Time: 6:30 p.m. EST
TV Coverage: Big Ten Network
Radio Coverage: 97.1 The Fan

Ohio State is coming off a week with back-to-back impressive wins over Northwestern and Illinois that displayed a lot of bend-but-don’t break. With the Buckeyes leading comfortably in both games, both the Wildcats and the Fighting Illini battled back late to cut the lead down to one and two points, respectively. Ohio State never flinched, though, and used timely baskets against Northwestern and clutch free-throw shooting against Illinois to seal the victories.

Ohio State Overview

After a rollercoaster start to the Big Ten season, which included the earlier loss to Purdue, Ohio State has settled in as of late and has put together a string of wins that has really shown the team’s resilience.

All three games in the current winning streak have come without senior point guard C.J. Walker (and Jimmy Sotos in two of those games). Walker has been ruled out against the Boilermakers, while Sotos is still listed as day-to-day.

E.J. Liddell came out of his slump in a big way on Saturday with a career-best 26 points. In three games prior to playing Illinois, the sophomore had shot only 30.8 percent (8-of-26) and had missed all six of his attempts from the floor against Northwestern. Liddell’s 3-point shooting proved to be crucial in the win over Illinois as he went 4-for-7 from deep after only making three total 3-point attempts on the season.

Duane Washington Jr. has had to step up in Walker’s and Sotos’ absences and be one of the primary ball-handlers. Despite the added pressure and responsibilities, he has averaged 17.0 points per game over the last three games, including a career high 23 points against Northwestern.

Justin Ahrens never has a problem letting it fly from deep and it really paid off for the Buckeyes last week. He shot a combined 7-of-10 from beyond the arc against the Wildcats and the Fighting Illini with timely shots in the second halves of both games.

Purdue Overview

Purdue’s Big Ten season has looked a lot like the Buckeyes, as they’ve had their own ups and downs and also come into the second matchup riding a three-game winning streak.

The Boilermakers head into Tuesday’s game with the worst scoring offense at 71.7 points per game but boasting the third-best defense in the league, allowing only 66.8 points per game.

Trevion Williams draws the most attention from opposing teams for good reason. The team’s leading scorer at 15.3 points per game is just one of four Big Ten student-athletes to make 100 field goals so far this year. He can’t be ignored on the other end of the floor, either, as he is the conference’s leading rebounder with 145 boards on the season. Williams is a force to be reckoned with on the inside, for sure. He had 16 points and eight rebounds against the Buckeyes in the first meeting.

Sasha Stefanovic and Eric Hunter Jr. help to spread the floor, though, and make sure that all the attention isn’t on Williams. Stefanovic can’t be left alone on the wing as he shoots a Big Ten-leading and almost-unheard-of 47.1 percent (40-for-85) from the 3-point line. Meanwhile, Hunter Jr. averages 10.7 points per game of his own. He hasn’t shot the ball much lately but, when he has, it’s gone in (7-for-15 in the last two games).

Ohio State Keys

  1. Don’t get caught looking ahead - A big game looms ahead on the road at Wisconsin on Saturday, but every game in the Big Ten this season is a big game. The Buckeyes must keep their eyes firmly locked on the Boilermakers or risk a setback.
  2. Liddell in the lineup - Liddell missed the previous Purdue game due to an illness and Ohio State really missed his presence on the inside. He will need to contend with Williams and the Boilermakers’ other bigs, especially keeping them off the glass, if the Buckeyes want to avenge their early season loss.
  3. From downtown (Columbus) - Early season woes from the 3-point arc have given way to some hot shooting of late. Last week against the Wildcats and the Fighting Illini, Ohio State shot a combined 45.7 percent (21-of-46) from the 3-point line. Justin Ahrens had a big part in that stat line, obviously, but things are starting to look and heat up for the team as a whole.

Matchup to Watch

Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic vs. Ohio State’s Duane Washington Jr. - Williams vs. Liddell seems like the easy pick here, but I’m intrigued by this matchup on the perimeter, given Stefanovic’s 3-point shooting. This tough defensive assignment is yet another thing on Washington’s plate but, if he is up to the challenge and can clamp down on the wing, it would force Purdue to get a little more one-dimensional on offense. 

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