The Ohio State Buckeyes men's basketball team is primed for yet another Big Ten regular season title. If Matt Painter and his Purdue Boilermakers have a say, however, the Big Ten race will drastically heat up after Sunday. With a little over 24 hours to tipoff in West Lafayette, the Buckeyes prepare for a Big Ten showdown with Purdue.
For Ohio State, a win would propel them one step closer to back-to-back Big Ten regular season titles, a feat that head coach Thad Matta achieved once before. The Big Ten-leading Buckeyes sit 12-1 in conference play, while the second place Boilermakers are 10-3.
With a Sunday win, the Buckeyes would sweep the season series with the Boilermakers. In their first meeting on January 25, Ohio State trounced Purdue 87-64 at home. The Buckeyes shot 55 percent from the field while holding their opponents to just 38 percent. Led by William Buford's 19 points, the Buckeyes opened up a 31-point lead and never looked back.
This time around, the Bucks will head into a hostile environment against a hot Purdue squad. The Boilermakers are 4-1 since their last meeting on January 25, including their current three-game win streak. Purdue is coming off a 70-62 home win over 10th ranked Wisconsin on Wednesday. The impressive win came over the same team that ended Ohio State's 25-0 start on February 12 in Madison.
As for the Buckeyes, they are coming off a tough win at home over Big Ten rival Michigan State on Tuesday. The 71-61 win was a big bounce back game for Ohio State after the disheartening loss to Wisconsin. Like the loss to Wisconsin, Sunday's test will be eerily similar.
Ohio State has been tested numerous times this season; Sunday will be no different. Purdue has plenty of star power with seniors JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore leading the way. Add the bonus of playing in front of a raucous Mackey Arena crowd, and you have the perfect recipe for upset.
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta knows what lies ahead; hopefully his squad is equally prepared. Numerous times this season, they have teetered on the brink of a loss. Michigan, Penn State and Northwestern all had the opportunity to knock the Buckeyes—unbeaten at the time—from the top, but failed. Fate finally caught up with them against Wisconsin when they blew a 15-point second half lead.
One can only wonder, if and when Purdue makes a run, what will Ohio State's response be? Will they roll over and allow Purdue to take over? Will they respond with solid defense and a calm approach?
If the Buckeyes learned one thing from the loss to Wisconsin, it will be how to respond once Purdue makes a run. When that time comes, the upperclassmen for the Buckeyes must step up. David Lighty, Jon Diebler and William Buford must guide Sullinger and the rest of the youngsters through.
Ohio State can make a statement on Sunday with a win against Purdue. A victory would put a three-game gap between the Bucks and the rest of the Big Ten pack with only four games left. With the Big Ten Tournament fast approaching as well as the NCAA, Sunday will prove if Ohio State is ready and battle tested enough to achieve their ultimate goal come spring!
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