No. 3 Purdue’s game against No. 14 Ohio State to have big conference implications

Purdue forward Vincent Edwards fully acknowledged the importance of the Boilermakers' next two games.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — It’s a make-or-break week for the frontrunners in the race for the Big Ten regular-season title.

Third-ranked Purdue hosts No. 14 Ohio State on Wednesday in the only meeting of the regular season.

The Buckeyes (20-5, 11-1 Big Ten) trail Purdue (23-2, 12-0) by one game in the conference standings with six games remaining. A win Wednesday would essentially force Purdue into a must-win situation Saturday at No. 4 Michigan State, which Ohio State defeated 80-64 on Jan. 7.

While still adhering to the “one game at a time” mindset, Purdue forward Vincent Edwards fully acknowledged the importance of the Boilermakers’ next two games.

“This is the chance for us to separate ourselves from the rest of the pack,” said Edwards, who averages 15.5 points and a team-best 7.8 rebounds. “It starts with the game (Wednesday), and of course we’re not going to look to the game Saturday because (Wednesday) is the most important one, in my opinion. (The Buckeyes) are the ones who are trailing right behind us, so this is the one we have to come out and get. We have to protect home court and we have to be ready to play.”

Michigan State edged Iowa 96-93 on Tuesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and trails Purdue by 1 1/2 games.

The Boilermakers own the second-longest home win streak in the nation with 21 straight at Mackey Arena dating back to 2015 but will face arguably their toughest individual matchup of the season Wednesday in Ohio State forward Kieta Bates-Diop.

Bates-Diop, widely considered the top candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year honors, is the conference’s leading scorer, averaging 20.2 points, and ranks third in rebounds at 8.9.

“They have one of the best players in the country on their team,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said of Bates-Diop. “Obviously he’s a skilled guy, but he’s really long. If you try to match him physically, in terms of length, then he’s normally pretty elusive and he gets by those guys, and gets angles and gets to the basket. If you put somebody smaller on him, he normally goes over those guys. He’s just a real tough matchup for a lot of people.”

Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann has his own matchups to worry about in preparing for Purdue, which holds the nation’s longest active win streak, at 17 straight games.

The Boilermakers are the top scoring team in the conference, averaging 84 points, and rank third in scoring defense, allowing 64.2.

“We’re trying to figure out how to get a stop and score a basket against these guys,” Holtmann said of Purdue. “They’re a terrific team. Complete in every way, really. No clear, identifiable weaknesses, to be honest with you … They’re complete on both ends.

“They don’t have a whole lot of guys that you can key off of and say, ‘hey this guy, you don’t have to guard’ or ‘we’re going to take our chances with this guy behind the line’ … They’ve got multiple players that command a double team.”

In assessing the top teams in the conference headed into the final stretch of the regular season, Holtmann named the Boilermakers’ perimeter shooting as their biggest differentiator from other teams in the conference.

“Their ability to shoot it is at a completely different level,” Holtmann said. “I think that’s what really gives them a chance to make a great run in the (NCAA) Tournament. Their efficiency from behind the arc is a joke, so that’s the one area I would say is not even close to comparable to the Michigan State team.”