Ohio State Reaches .500 in Big Ten with Win Over Purdue

Bruce Hooley

Ohio State fans lured into the intoxicating fantasy of a high-scoring, precision offense carrying the Buckeyes to the national championship need to instead fall in love with the process of winning over how pretty those victories play out.

That much is evident, not just from OSU's 68-52 victory over Purdue on Saturday, but from the five wins in six games that have stabilized a promising season that threatened to go south.

From four-games under .500 in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes (17-8, 7-7) are finally at .500 in the league for the first time this season -- an occasion no one figured to mark with balloons or candy when they stormed out of the gate 9-0 and wasted basketball bluebloods like Villanova, North Carolina and Kentucky in the process.

Those days of double-digit blowouts and routine scoring outputs of 75 points or more are probably a thing of the past now that OSU is fighting for every inch of space in a conference so deep you can drown in the supposedly-shallow water of a road game at Northwestern or Nebraska.

So this stretch of successful basketball for the Buckeyes -- winning five of six -- feels differently than the red-carpet cakewalk that greeted the roll-out of the season, if not to players, then certainly to fans.

"Honestly, we don't really think about any of that," OSU's Luther Muhammad said. "We just focus on getting better every day and we just are where our feet are.

"...We focus on getting better, continue to stay with it, continue to get each other better and get the team to play as a team."

That's what passes for beautiful basketball now, and so it figures OSU would be led by Kyle Young's career-high 16 points to complete the makeover of a Big Ten record that stood at 2-6 after an 18-point loss at Penn State on Jan. 18.

Since then, the Buckeyes have won on the road at Northwestern and Michigan and defeated Indiana, Rutgers and Purdue at home. 

"He's just active," Purdue coach Matt Painter said of Young. "He's just a hard-nosed, tough dude. You can't have enough guys like him on your team."

The nice way of characterizing Young is as the Buckeyes' sanitation engineer. The not-so-nice way is, he's their garbage man.

Don't be fooled...life gets pretty smelly without a garbage man, and Ohio State's offense would be a stinky mess without Young digging and scrapping for rebounds and put-backs and cashing the opportunities he gets off monotonous labor the lane.

"He impacts the game in ways that are not always on the stat sheet," OSU coach Chris Holtmann said. "Today, it was on the stat sheet, with his rebounding, his scoring, his activity, his ability to guard different bodies and different positions. He was really good."

Young made 6-of-9 shots and had seven rebounds to make the post productive on a day where center Kaleb Wesson scored only once inside the 3-point line in getting to 13 points.

Muhammad added 11.

"They didn't play great," Purdue coach Matt Painter said of the Buckeyes. "They played well enough to beat us, but they didn't play great. They can play great at home, but today was not one of those days."

Understand, Painter wasn't being critical. He credited the win to what OSU did and prevented his team from doing, but his assessment acknowledged the results-oriented priority present in a league where 10 of the 14 members started the day within two games of the other in the standings.

Ohio State survived 10 first-half turnovers and 16 for the game, something it likely cannot repeat if it's to get above break-even Thursday at No. 21 Iowa.

After that comes a Sunday home tip against No. 9 Maryland, which contributed to Ohio State's slow start in the conference with a 65-55 win in their first meeting on  Jan. 7.

"It's a really good win for our group," Holtmann said. "...We had some really good stretches and we had some stretches that we have to keep growing and improving on, but when you beat a team that's as complete as Purdue is, it's a really good win."

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