COLUMBUS, Ohio – Purdue finds itself in an unfamiliar position today. The Boilermakers are trying to bounce back from a home loss with a strong performance on the road. For most of this season, the situation has been reversed and Purdue has been able to count on the crowd at Mackey Arena to provide much of the energy it needs in big games. That won't be the case today. In fact, Ohio State is one of the quieter arenas in the Big Ten (not saying much, it's still not an easy place in which to play), so the energy could be fairly low at the start of the game.
Purdue has recently played much better on the road, coming from behind to beat Northwestern and then running away from Indiana last Saturday. It's difficult to tell, however, whether the Boilers have really turned a corner in games away from home or whether they simply caught two opponents who weren't playing very well. Against Northwestern especially, Purdue looked lackluster for much of the game and again got off to a poor start. Much like against Indiana, when Eric Hunter Jr. hit a pair of 3-pointers to help the Boilers overcome another shaky first few minutes, Purdue will need someone to give the team a spark early on today. This Boilermakers team has players capable of doing so all over the roster and it only takes one playing with energy for the rest of the team to follow suit. We might know within the first five minutes of this game whether the Boilermakers have brought the intensity necessary to pull out a third straight win away from home.
In terms of X's and O's tonight, the top priority for the Boilermakers will be slowing down Ohio State's Kaleb Wesson. Wesson, the team's leading scorer (14.1 points per game) and rebounder (9.4 per game) is a load in the post and has added a new dimension to his game this year: he's shooting 42% from beyond the 3-point line. That poses a problem for Purdue's Trevion Williams, who is the only Boiler capable of handling Wesson's physicality down low. If Wesson draws him out to the perimeter, Williams will be out of rebounding position and Ohio State will get extra possessions off of offensive rebounds. Last season, Purdue was able to get Wesson in foul trouble and he played only 16 minutes in a 79-67 Boilers win in Columbus. Look for Williams to try to attack Wesson early and often in the post. Purdue's post feeds from the perimeter will have to be strong because Ohio State is used to teams trying to go at Wesson down low and the Buckeyes' guards are adept at jumping passing lanes.
On defense, Ohio State is holding opponents to only 61.8 points per game (19th in the country) and a 41.4% shooting percentage from 2-point range, with Wesson bothering drivers in the lane and making post-ups difficult with his physical defense. The Buckeyes struggled through a stretch of six losses in seven games earlier in the season, but have since righted the ship and have won four of their last five, including victories at Michigan and at home over Rutgers. This isn't Indiana or Northwestern – Ohio State is back to playing with confidence and in a game the Boilers desperately need, they'll need to match that.