INDIANAPOLIS — Having to play in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State had its hands full with Purdue from the start.
With his team leading 60-58 with under a minute to play, OSU senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. swiped the ball from Purdue sophomore guard Ronnie Johnson — leading him to make one of two free throws after being fouled.
OSU would then foul Purdue senior guard Terone Johnson, who made the first shot and intentionally missed the second. The ball caromed out of bounds with 1.2 remaining, giving the Boilermakers another shot at the upset.
But a 3-pointer from the wing by Johnson bounced off the rim at the buzzer, allowing the Buckeyes to beat Purdue for the third time this season, 63-61, and advance to the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
OSU (23-9, 11-8) led 59-58, with 59 seconds to play, when senior guard Aaron Craft followed his own miss and stripped the ball from Purdue sophomore center A.J. Hammons to save the possession.
Smith Jr. would then make two free throws — the first of which was his 1,000th point of his career — to put the Buckeyes ahead by three.
But Hammons answered down low on the ensuing possession, leading to a quick timeout by Purdue (15-17, 5-14), before the back and forth action of the game’s final plays.
After the win, Smith Jr. said the team’s struggles down the stretch were the last time the Buckeyes could play like that this season and still come out on top.
“Obviously I think so. At this point in the season, you don’t want to play games like that,” Smith Jr. said. “But all in all, we didn’t lose.”
After a sluggish start — one that included the Buckeyes starting the game 0-6 from beyond the arc — Smith Jr. nailed the game’s first 3-pointer at the 4:11 mark. Junior forward Sam Thompson scored on the baseline on the Buckeyes’ next possession, giving OSU a 26-19 lead and forcing a timeout by the Boilermakers.
Purdue would get a little closer, however, as nine turnovers plagued the Buckeyes in the opening 20 minutes. Junior forward LaQuinton Ross buried a jumpshot from the baseline just before the buzzer for OSU, which led 30-27 at the break.
“I didn’t like the way we started the game in terms of the baskets we were giving, I think at halftime 10 of our 12 makes were right at the rim,” OSU coach Thad Matta said after the win. “We made some ridiculous mental mistakes defensively, we didn’t do a good job taking care of the basketball.”
The lead would not last though, as Boilermaker senior guard Terone Johnson buried a three with 16:59 left to put his team back in front, 35-34.
A back-and-forth affair ensued, and the Buckeyes continued to struggle to score aside from Ross.
Purdue led, 48-45, after a layup by senior forward Errick Peck with just under 10 minutes to play.
The Boilermakers’ lead would grow to 51-47, but then a 7-0 spurt led by five points from senior guard Aaron Craft put the Buckeyes back in the lead by three with 6:27 to play.
A 3-pointer off the glass by Purdue freshman guard Kendall Stephens tied the game again.
A quick 5-0 run by OSU — topped off by a dunk by Thompson on a lob pass from Craft over a defender — put the Buckeyes back in the lead, 59-54, with 3:24 remaining.
OSU just couldn’t put the Boilermakers away until the very end, needing a late turnover and timely free throw shooting to finish the job.
“At this time of the year, I don’t care who you play — if you don’t play your best basketball you’re susceptible to get beat,” Smith Jr. said.
Ross led all scorers with 19 points and collected a career-high 14 rebounds. Craft finished with 16 points and five assists.
Up next, the Buckeyes are scheduled to take on the No. 4 seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers (19-11, 9-7), Friday, in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. This season the teams split the series with OSU winning 84-53 in Columbus Jan. 4 and the Cornhuskers coming out on top in Lincoln, Neb., 68-62.
“Nebraska: hot team, good team, team that has beaten us before, a team that has a lot of confidence and is playing really good basketball right now,” Thompson said after the win. “We’re going to watch some more film on them tonight, but we’re going to impose our will on them, just like any other game. We have to come out and play our basketball for 40 minutes.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 25 minutes after the finish of No. 8 Michigan against Illinois.