The last two weeks have been brutal for the Ohio State men’s basketball team.
The Buckeyes are in the midst of a skid, losing three of their first four conference games, with a lone win against the Indiana Hoosiers.
Tonight’s game against Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind. provides OSU with a chance to take a huge step back in the right direction. The game will serve as the finale of a grueling five-game opening to Big Ten play, a stretch that forced OSU to play four out of five games on the road to begin conference play.
Although the Boilermakers are coming off a loss Saturday at Wisconsin, they are still ranked No. 6 in the nation and are, as of now, the best in the Big Ten.
“They’re obviously a great basketball team,” OSU head coach Thad Matta said. “Having [forward Robbie] Hummel healthy this year, I think makes them that much better.”
Hummel, who struggled through a back injury last season, has played in all 15 games for the Boilermakers this season and appears to be completely healed.
While some may expect Purdue to come out with a little more focus now that they’ve been handed their first loss, junior guard Evan Turner said he isn’t too concerned.
“I’m not really worried because we just came off of a loss, so I’m not really worried about how they feel,” Turner said. “It’s basketball. That’s pretty much it. It’s basketball.”
Turner said that he still remembers the last time he and the Buckeyes squared off against Purdue. The two teams faced each other last March, with a Big Ten tournament championship on the line.
“They made some big plays and I think they just outlasted us,” Turner said of his team’s 65-61 loss in the tournament finale. “But that was then, and now we have another opportunity to come back at them.”
Given their slow start, the Buckeyes cannot afford to let this opportunity fall by the wayside. Though they expected to be tested early on in conference play with the schedule they were given, the 1-3 start is obviously not ideal.
Losses against Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota have left OSU in ninth place in the conference standings, ahead of only Penn State and Iowa.
The Buckeyes have suffered from an overall inconsistency on the offensive end. It seems as though anything that can go wrong does, causing scoring droughts.
“It could be one little thing, one little thing could trigger a whole unit,” Turner said. “You have to be tough every second.”
Against a team like Purdue, if OSU wants to avoid fates similar to those in their recent games, they have to find a way to avoid giving up big runs, Matta said.
“Obviously you’re dialed in on Purdue, but our focus is going to be a lot on us continuing to play through adversity,” Matta said. “On the offensive side, just continuing to get our execution down and, this sounds so simple, but putting the ball in the basket at crucial times.”
And yes, it does sound simple, but it is something that the Buckeyes have not been able to do lately. Too many times, at a key moment in the game they get an open look at the basket, but can’t make the shot.
Turner said that he doesn’t put too much stock in the recent shooting woes, and thinks that the struggles are simply an aberration.
“It’s not often when Jon Diebler goes 1-8 or even Jeremie [Simmons], he missed a couple shots,” Turner said. “I think we just got to hit shots and get our rhythm back and we’ll be fine.”
With his team’s toughest game to date tonight, Turner expects the Buckeyes to be ready. He said that, rather than making shots, the game will come down to whichever team is toughest.
“They try and overpower your energy by bringing physicality to the game,” Turner said. “We matched them in the past and when we matched them we were able to beat them. That’s all you have to do.”