The Buckeyes haven't put together a four-game win streak since they opened the season by going 15 games without a loss, but the last two victories of that scorching start came against the Boilermakers and potential second-round opponent Nebraska. Predicting what can happen in postseason play is a fool's errand, but with the benefit of the 20/20 vision that comes with hindsight, we can look back on the first two times that Ohio State and Purdue faced off – a 78-69 OSU triumph in West Lafayette to open Big Ten play on Dec. 31 and the Buckeyes' 67-49 romp in Columbus on Feb. 8.
What Went Right
It's no secret that Ohio State has had its share of struggles this season when it comes to putting the ball in the basket. That hasn't mattered against the offensively inept Boilermakers, however. Although there have been games where Ohio State's defense hasn't been able to bail it out, none of those occurred against Purdue.
Purdue shot 42.0 percent and 41.8 percent, respectively, in its two losses against the Buckeyes. While Matt Painter's squad managed a respectable 69 points in the Dec. 31 outing, its 49-point output in Value City Arena five weeks later was its lowest of the season. That latter defensive performance was good for even the Buckeyes' standards, but it wasn't rare – OSU held eight opponents to 50 points or fewer in the regular season.
Aaron Craft, Man of Steal
The all-time Big Ten steals leader had a field day against the Boilermakers, notching seven of the Buckeyes' 14 steals in those two wins. That average of 3.5 steals per game was nearly a full steal above his season average of 2.55, a number that helped him land conference defensive player of the year honors.
Ohio State took far better care of the ball than Purdue, forcing at least twice as many turnovers as it committed in both instances. On Feb. 8, the Buckeyes forced 15 turnovers and committed just seven. In the initial meeting, OSU turned the ball over six times to Purdue's 12.
LaQuinton Ross served as the Buckeyes' leading scorer in more than half of their 31 contests, and Purdue was no exception to that trend. The junior forward hit the Boilermakers for 25 points (including making 9 of 11 free-throw shots) and 12 rebounds in the initial meeting. He followed up that outing by tallying 17 points and six boards in the second meeting. The Jackson, Miss., native led OSU in both categories for both games.
What Needs Work
According to KenPom.com, the Boilermakers block 13.8 percent of opponents' two-point field goal attempts, which ranks 27th in the country and is more than four percent higher than the national average. Although it came in at a slightly lower rate of 11.5, that shot-altering ability still showed up against the Buckeyes.
Sophomore center A.J. Hammons has almost exclusively been the reason for Purdue's success in that avenue. He accounted for eight of the nine blocks over the two games – not surprising that he ranks sixth in the country in block percentage.
Ohio State dominated Purdue on the scoreboard but not in the paint. In both matchups, the Boilermakers finished with the edge in offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds and total rebounds. The final result was a 79-67 margin over the two contests. Despite turning the ball over at a rate twice as high as Ohio State, Purdue still managed to take almost exactly as many shots as OSU thanks to a superior performance on both ends of the glass. Despite their paltry record, the Boilermakers rank 34th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, and they certainly proved why against the Buckeyes.
For a pair of games that ended with a relatively significant margin of victory in favor of OSU, it still took late charges in both instances. On Dec. 31, the Buckeyes took a one-point advantage into the locker room at halftime thanks to a last-second bucket from Lenzelle Smith. The score was tied more than six minutes into the second half, and it wasn't until a 9-2 run at that point that OSU truly began to pull away from the hosts. In the second meeting, Purdue pulled within three with less than 10 minutes to go before a run from the Buckeyes crushed any hopes of an upset.
Since They've Last Met
Purdue pulled off a surprising 18-point win against Indiana in its next outing after the most recent loss to the Buckeyes but failed to create any momentum. Since that win against their in-state rival, the Boilermakers lost their final six games to ensure a basement finish, with the final indignity coming in a lifeless loss to a struggling Northwestern squad.
The Boilermakers finished the season by ranking 200th or worse in too many categories to name, including two-point shooting percentage, three-point shooting percentage, free throw percentage, block percentage by opponents and steal percentage by opponents. The Boilermakers cannot shoot, nor can they prevent the other team from taking the ball from them.