Ohio State opens Big Ten play against Purdue
Ohio State survived the non-conference portion of its schedule unscathed, though it did so by playing only one true road game.
The tests will begin to get tougher starting Tuesday, when the No. 3 Buckeyes begin Big Ten play with a trip to Purdue.
Four of Ohio State’s first six conference games are away from home, including a matchup with No. 5 Michigan State next Tuesday night. The Buckeyes’ only true away game was Nov. 16, when they beat then-No. 17 Marquette 52-35. Ohio State has played one other game outside of Columbus, defeating Notre Dame 64-61 in New York on Dec. 21.
"The one thing in today’s college basketball society, there’s no givens," coach Thad Matta said. "Obviously the numbers, the statistics … the winning percentage at home is something like 76 percent.
"With that said, we’ve been in battles, been in games they have to win on the road and came through. But you just know it’s challenging."
The good news for Ohio State is that it has a veteran roster led by a pair of senior guards who have been through plenty of conference road battles.
Point guard Aaron Craft has 90 career starts while Lenzelle Smith Jr. has started 89 games, and the duo sets the tone for the team. Smith leads the Buckeyes with 13.4 points per game while Craft averages team highs of 4.6 assists and 2.4 steals.
Smith had a game-high 17 points in a 71-31 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Friday, and the Buckeyes know they will see a step up in competition when they take on the Boilermakers (10-3).
"It’s definitely exciting. Obviously you jump into Big Ten play, where it has been crazy the past few years, where you have to be ready to go every game," Craft said. "Purdue is going to come out with something extra too. You have to protect home court when you start league play, so it’s like a new season. Everyone is 0-0. We’re just excited to try and get that first win."
Matta has gone 2-2 in Big Ten openers on the road since arriving at Ohio State in 2004-05, and he’s 4-3 with the Buckeyes in Mackey Arena.
Purdue has been off since a 73-70 win at West Virginia on Dec. 22. Terone Johnson, who leads the team with 14.0 points per game, matched his season high with 20.
The Boilermakers, who are 8-0 at home, lost 97-87 to then-No. 5 Oklahoma State on Nov. 28 in Orlando in their only matchup with a Top 25 team this season.
That defeat dropped Purdue to 1-17 in its last 18 meetings against teams ranked in the top 5. However, the one victory was 76-63 over the visiting No. 2 Buckeyes on Feb. 20, 2011.
"(Ohio State is) a great team, they share the ball really well, just a great unit all over," said guard Ronnie Johnson, second on Purdue with 10.8 points per game. "Just going right into it, starting off with a highly ranked team off the bat is a great thing. Everyone will be ready for it, so we’ll just see what happens when the time comes."