Purdue-Ohio St. Preview
Although coach Thad Matta insists there's no secret formula, Ohio State has enjoyed more success in the Big Ten tournament than any other team in recent years.
Continuing that trend would be particularly impressive considering the 24th-ranked Buckeyes are coming off an inconsistent regular season.
Entering with their worst Big Ten record in five years, fifth-seeded Ohio State will try to begin a march toward a sixth straight title game Thursday when it takes on struggling Purdue in Indianapolis.
The Buckeyes (23-8, 10-8) are the only team to reach the Big Ten championship game in five consecutive years. They've claimed three of the last four tourney crowns, including last year's 50-43 title-game win over Wisconsin.
"I've had a lot of coaches call me and ask," Matta said. "But in terms of preparation, in terms of pregame speeches, in terms of what we eat, it's always the same."
Matta's squad has reached the championship game in seven of the past eight seasons and was a top-three seed in all but one of them, falling 65-61 to Purdue as the No. 5 seed in the 2009 final. Now the Buckeyes hope to begin a similar run as that seed following an up-and-down season which ended with their worst conference record since also going 10-8 in 2008-09.
After a 15-0 overall start had them ranked third, they dropped four straight in January. More recently, they lost back-to-back games to unranked foes Penn State and Indiana before closing the regular season with a 69-67 home win over No. 22 Michigan State on Sunday.
"We're looking for the same thing we look for every year - win the Big Ten championship," forward Sam Thompson said. "Our goals haven't changed because of our seed or because of losses in the regular season."
LaQuinton Ross led the way with 22 points Sunday and Aaron Craft added 12 with seven assists. Craft, the Big Ten defensive player of the year, had four steals to become the league's career leader with 328.
The Buckeyes, who held the Spartans scoreless over the final 4:30, allow a conference-low 59.1 points per game heading into the tournament.
Ross, scoring a team-high 14.8 per game, has averaged 20.0 points over his last three games.
The junior forward played a key role in the Buckeyes' regular-season sweep of the Boilermakers (15-16, 5-13), posting 25 points and 12 rebounds in a 78-69 road win Dec. 31 and scoring 17 in a 67-49 home victory Feb. 8.
Teammate Lenzelle Smith Jr. totaled 30 points in the two meetings, including four 3-pointers in the last one, but he's in a 4-for-20 slump from beyond the arc.
The Buckeyes should be able to find open looks against a 12th-seeded Purdue team that has allowed an average of 80.0 points during a six-game losing streak, its longest since the 2004-05 season.
"They're capable of winning the Big Ten tournament," coach Matt Painter said of the Buckeyes. "We know how good they are and we just have to do a better job of not beating ourself."
Ohio State has won the last five meetings with the Boilermakers, including an 88-71 victory in the 2012 tournament quarterfinals.
While Purdue has lost four of its last five tourney games, Ohio State has won 11 of 12 and now looks to become the first champion seeded outside the top three since No. 6 Iowa won it in 2001.
Purdue leading scorers Terone Johnson and Ronnie Johnson combined for nine points on 4-of-15 shooting in last month's loss to the Buckeyes. Ronnie Johnson has gone 0 for 6 from the field in two of his three games this month.