As the streaking No. 20 Ohio State men’s basketball team gets set to take its winning ways on the road, it is preparing to tip off against a team with a winning streak of its own.
The Purdue Boilermakers (14-8, 6-3), who, like the Buckeyes, are riding a three-game winning streak, are led by a pair of seven-footers in the paint, each contributing in his own way.
Seven-foot junior center A.J. Hammons, who leads the Big Ten conference in blocks per game, combined with 7-foot-2-inch freshman center Isaac Haas, have created problems for their opponents of late.
In a Saturday win over Indiana, Hammons recorded eight blocks to go along with 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting to help lead the Boilermakers to a 83-67 thrashing of the Hoosiers.
OSU senior guard Shannon Scott said Tuesday that the Buckeyes (17-5, 6-3) will need more than senior centers Trey McDonald and Amir Williams and redshirt-senior forward Anthony Lee to perform well if they wish to come away with a win.
“We are going to need everybody. We can’t just stop their two big men with just one player. Anthony knows that, Amir knows that and Trey knows that,” Scott said. “We are all going to be ready for that. The guards are going to have to do a good job of keeping the ball out of the paint; that’s where it all starts out from.”
Last year in West Lafayette, Ind., Hammons had one of his best games as a Boilermaker as he pulled down 16 rebounds and scored 18 points against the Buckeyes, who ended up holding on for a 78-69 victory.
OSU coach Thad Matta acknowledged Hammons’ big game last season and added that Purdue is getting contributions from more than just Hammons.
“I think right now they are playing at a extremely high level. I think for them, the pieces have sort of come together and everybody understands what their job is on the team,” Matta said. “I think Matt does a tremendous job in coaching his team and getting the most out of those guys, and that is what you are seeing right now.”
Haas, the other big man in the paint for the Boilermakers, has picked up his game during Purdue’s current run, scoring 10 points in just 11 minutes played in its win over Northwestern. Six of Haas’ points came from the free throw line in that game.
Matta said he agreed with Scott’s comments and added that OSU will need to limit its fouls despite Purdue’s size.
“I think both guys get a lot of fouls called for them … We are going to need all three guys, and really everybody on the court to do their job, to attempt to slow them down,” Matta said.
Lee, who took over the starting role underneath for OSU after a second loss to Iowa, said Tuesday that his previous experience and help defense will be the key for his own success.
“I think playing at Temple was good for me because I played against people that were that height. So I do have experience doing that,” Lee said. “But playing in the Big Ten, also, you have more people that’s physical, I think. Just being able to communicate with my guys on defense, let ‘em know if I’m gonna front ‘em or how I’m gonna play ‘em .”
Williams, who was removed from the starting lineup in favor of Lee, will still be relied on to play well against the Boilermakers, Matta said.
“They are obviously big inside and very talented inside. Amir has typically played well against Purdue. I have been told big guys like to play against big guys,” Matta said. “I don’t know that for certain, but I think just watching A.J.’s progression over the time he has been there, I think there have been a few ups and downs, but it looks like he is playing at a pretty high level.”
While the play of the big men underneath will likely be the focus, OSU freshman guard D’Angelo Russell will not likely be forgotten about.
The Louisville, Ky., native is not only the second-leading scorer in the Big Ten, he is also a five-time conference freshman of the week award recipient and has also managed to rank third in the Big Ten in assists per game.
Helping Russell pick up many of those assists is sophomore forward Marc Loving, who leads the conference in 3-point field goal percentage, shooting 53 percent from long range.
Scott said that Loving, who has been coming off the bench since being replaced by freshman forward Jae’Sean Tate, is starting to figure out his responsibilities for the Buckeyes.
“I think Marc has done a great job of getting his groove back,” Scott said. “I think last game he had a tremendous game for us and if he plays like that we are going to win a lot more games. I think he really understands what his role needs to be and he is sticking to it.”
The Buckeyes are set to take on the Boilermakers in West Lafayette, Ind., on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.