It's tournament time for Purdue. Well, kind of.
For the first time in conference play in 21 years, the Boilermakers will play tonight after only one day of rest, a schedule usually reserved for nonconference tournaments or March Madness. The Boilers beat Penn State on Sunday at Mackey Arena, rested as best they could Monday and face No. 15 Ohio State at Value City Arena tonight.
The matchup against the Buckeyes was originally scheduled for Jan. 27, but it was moved up in an effort to give the Boilermakers an extra day that could be used to make up a postponed game against Nebraska. Such is life in a season that continues to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Purdue coach Matt Painter's message to his team is to think of the quick turnaround as a potential prelude to a Big Dance schedule.
“If you go play in the NCAA Tournament, you play Thursday, then Saturday or you play Friday and then Sunday,” Painter said. “Just treat this like the NCAA Tournament. If you get in the NCAA Tournament, you're gonna play teams like Penn State and Ohio State. They're quality teams, they're good teams.
“You're able to win and now you get to advance and play another game. Think how excited you'd be to play a game in the NCAA Tournament in the second round. Be that excited.”
The Boilermakers defeated Penn State 80-72 and will now go on the road for the fifth time in six games, another quirk of the changing Big Ten schedule. Purdue has won three games in a row and has zoomed into a tie for fourth in the conference standings, even with the Buckeyes. Ohio State has also won three in a row, including victories over a pair of ranked teams in Illinois and Rutgers.
“It's really just rest and preparation from here,” Purdue guard Sasha Stefanovic said. “Obviously, we have one day in between practice, so we're not going to go too hard, it's more about mentally preparing for what Ohio State's going to do. It helps that we've played them before, we're a little familiar with what they do.
“These are the challenges you want. One day, a week rest, whatever it is, you're going into a ranked opponent's arena, it's really special, that's why this league is so awesome. It's a big challenge for us, it's a big opportunity.”
The Boilermakers defeated Ohio State 67-60 at Mackey Arena in Purdue's Big Ten opener on Dec. 16. The Buckeyes came into the matchup undefeated, but shot just 25% from 3-point range and were outrebounded 33-29. Purdue's performance made an impression on Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann.
“I've always thought (Purdue is) a really physical team, but I think this team in particular is one of the most physical teams we've played against,” Holtmann said. “That was the case at (Mackey Arena). ... They've got a great will about them offensively and defensively.”
The Buckeyes were without 6-foot-7 forward E.J. Liddell, the team's second-leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, in the first matchup. Liddell will be in the lineup tonight and is coming off a career-high 26 points against Illinois on Saturday. This time, Ohio State will be without senior point guard C.J. Walker, who averages 8.7 points and 4.2 assists. He's dealing with a hand injury that has plagued him all season.
Even with Liddell back and Walker out, Purdue's game plan will likely remain the same: Get the ball to Trevion Williams. The junior center has three 20-point games and three double-doubles in his last five games and is shooting 60% in his last 10 games.
Williams feasted against the undersized Buckeyes the first time these teams met, scoring 16 points, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing eight assists.
“Hopefully we play him better than we did last time,” Holtmann said of Williams. “Give him credit, he made some tough shots. He also made a lot of plays for others, which is what he does. ... He's just a really good player.”
Note: Williams was named a Big Ten co-Player of the Week on Monday after he averaged 17.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in a pair of Boilermaker victories last week. It is the second conference player of the week honor of the junior's career.
In addition, Boilermakers guard Brandon Newman was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week. He averaged 12.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and two blocks in the Purdue wins. This is the first time in Boilermaker history that the team has swept the conference's weekly awards.
at Ohio State
When: 6:30 p.m. today
Where: Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Records: Purdue (10-5, 5-3 Big Ten), No. 15 Ohio State (11-3, 5-3)
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM