A charmed road existence for the Ohio State men's basketball team this season is about to be put to its first significant test. Undefeated in four true road games this year, the No. 14 Buckeyes will go into Purdue’s Mackey Arena on Wednesday night and confront a situation they’ve not yet experienced this year.
Namely, a hostile, loud crowd firmly behind the home team.
“As much as anything I’m anxious to see how we perform in a very hostile environment against an elite team and anxious to see what we can take from that, good or bad,” first-year coach Chris Holtmann said Tuesday. “I don’t know that I put a whole lot more into it other than that, anxious to see how we respond. Everybody tells me it’s always loud there.”
The unbalanced Big Ten schedule, along with a healthy dose of good luck, has allowed the Buckeyes to dip their toes into road games before taking the plunge. They opened conference play at Wisconsin, and although the Kohl Center listed attendance at 17,287, the atmosphere was significantly muted with the Big Ten football championship game between the Buckeyes and Badgers slated for later that evening.
Then, when Big Ten play resumed in January, the Buckeyes opened up at Iowa before the student section had returned from winter break. The final announced attendance was 10,933 – nearly 5,000 fewer fans than were on hand to see the Hawkeyes beat the Buckeyes a season ago.
“Wisconsin, we probably didn’t get their normal crowd in that particular game, let’s be honest,” Holtmann said. “That’s a great environment, but that was a unique one there. Iowa was good and loud and really got into it in the second half when they made a major run and knocked us around.”
Ohio State then played three straight games away from home, but in a twist of fate just one was a true road game. The Buckeyes won at Rutgers in front of 7,476 fans the day before students arrived from winter break, then beat Northwestern at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, while the Wildcats’ home arena is being renovated. Only 6,018 fans made the journey for a game that was drafty and largely quiet.
And as part of the desire to grow the conference footprint in the New York market, Minnesota was made to give up a home game and “host” Ohio State at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 20. Attendance was generously listed as 4,136, a far cry from the 11,267 who watched the Golden Gophers trounce the Buckeyes at Williams Arena last season.
Now it’s off to Mackey Arena, which promises to have no vacancies among the 14,240 available seats. Third-ranked Purdue is 14-0 there this year and has won 21 straight games dating back to last season.
Senior Jae’Sean Tate is looking forward to the challenge.
“I just think it’s always been a competitive game facing them,” he said. “The opportunity to go up there and play in that atmosphere in front of that crowd, I’ve never won there. It’s very loud. They have a good student section. Being a competitor, I love that edge. I love being a part of that and I think it ups my game.”