That’s how long it’s been since Ohio State men’s basketball could claim a .500 record in the Big Ten conference, sitting at 1-1 one day before it fell 61-57 at home to Wisconsin Jan. 2.
Saturday, Purdue (14-11, 7-7 Big Ten) comes to Columbus, now the lone team standing between the Buckeyes (16-8, 6-7) and a return to even conference footing.
“They’ve got terrific shooting. They’ve got a bigger, ball-handling point forward. That’s always been a difficult matchup for us,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said. “Bona fide NCAA Tournament team. I would — I won’t say I’d put money on it. But they’re a really good team.”
Ohio State’s outlook since Jan. 2 has been tumultuous.
On that day the Buckeyes were 11-2, No. 5 in the country, and despite a recent loss to then-No. 22 West Virginia, were a favorite in the Big Ten with a full slate of conference play ahead of them.
Ohio State proceeded to drop three consecutive conference games, finally followed by a second conference victory, and then lost two more to cap a six-of-seven-game losing skid.
Since that time, the Buckeyes have won four of their past five games.
While the offense has failed to muster 60 points in six defeats, Holtmann said that side of the ball isn’t entirely to blame for the team’s inconsistency, referencing the team’s metrics among the Big Ten in league play.
“We’re third in offensive efficiency and we’re 10th in defensive efficiency,” Holtmann said. “So I’m obviously concerned about our defensive numbers. Overall, our defensive numbers are pretty good, but I would like for us to improve.”
Moving forward to Purdue, Ohio State sophomore guard Duane Washington said with freshman guard D.J. Carton taking time to deal with mental health issues, the three remaining scholarship guards have to be fully bought in.
“At this point, it’s either you’re gonna be in it or you’re not gonna be in it. You’re either gonna be in or out,” Washington said. “We’ve got fighters, we’ve got guys that compete, and we’ve got guys with heart on the team. So we’re all fighting and just constantly getting better.”
Purdue’s offense bears a striking resemblance to Rutgers, Ohio State’s most recent victory.
Like the Scarlet Knights, the scoring boils over across a committee of players. For Purdue, there are five that average between nine and 11.2 points per game.
Sophomore forward Trevion Williams leads the charge as the leading point collector and rebounder, with 11.2 and 7.4 per game, respectively.
Sophomore guard Eric Hunter trails Williams with 10.5 points per game and leads the team with 2.9 assists.
Holtmann said the Boilermakers’ balance makes them difficult to defend, especially when 7-foot-3 junior center Matt Haarms, who’s been in and out with injury, is in Purdue’s lineup.
“You look at strengths of your team, weaknesses of our team, areas that might concern you personnel wise and you really go from there,” Holtmann said. “That’s what you’re looking at.”
Also similar to Rutgers, the Boilermakers’ bread and butter is made on defense. They’re tied for No. 3 in the Big Ten with the Scarlet Knights for scoring defense.
Purdue’s turnover margin is No. 2 in the conference, gathering 2.6 more takeaways than its opponents per game.
With its goals still in sight, Holtmann is looking forward to the opportunities the final few months of the season bring. He used “in process” to describe Ohio State’s season thus far.
“I try not to reflect back on the season until the story is finally written, and stay in the moment as much as possible, because it can be overwhelming if you don’t,” Holtmann said.
Ohio State and Purdue tip off at noon Saturday at the Schottenstein Center.