The final buzzer sounded, and coach Chris Holtmann and junior guard CJ Walker both turned toward the Ohio State student section. Embracing the moment, Walker held his hands in the air to beckon more applause from the Nuthouse, which was happy to oblige.
Holtmann, meanwhile, pumped his fists and gestured to the crowd before turning to join the postgame handshake line. It was a momentary outburst of joy, one that came after a 68-52 win over Purdue on Saturday afternoon that the Buckeyes controlled as thoroughly as any game this calendar year.
"It’s a little bit of an exhale," Holtmann said.
Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
There’s plenty more work to be done, and the win wasn’t without its warts. But now, after having lost six of seven games, the Buckeyes (17-8, 7-7 Big Ten) have climbed back to .500 in league play by winning five of their past six. Purdue (14-12, 7-8), meanwhile, has lost two straight.
Ohio State never trailed. It traded three-pointers early, took a 6-3 lead when Andre Wesson answered brother Kaleb’s opening three-pointer with one of his own, and pushed the lead to 10-3 before Purdue called a timeout four minutes into the game.
The Boilermakers got no closer than four points during the first half and trailed by at least nine the entire second half, as the Buckeyes posted their best defensive efficiency margin in a Big Ten game since a Jan. 14, 2018 home win over Rutgers during Holtmann’s first season.
"Just compete, to be honest," sophomore guard Luther Muhammad said. "We knew it was going to be a fight from start to finish. We knew to come out and play hard, play together. And our coaches were hitting on just competing and executing and toughness."
Junior forward Kyle Young led a balanced scoring attack with 16 points. Kaleb Wesson added 13 points, eight rebounds and a career-high four steals, and Muhammad added 11 points for his second consecutive game in double figures.
Despite committing 16 turnovers, the Buckeyes were 9 of 20 on three-pointers (45.0%), took 23 free throws to Purdue’s 11 and held the Boilermakers to a 4-of-20 three-point shooting performance (20.0%).
The Buckeyes led 29-20 at the break, but the margin could have — and probably should have — been more. When Duane Washington Jr. buried a three-pointer from straight on, then threw a skip pass to a wide-open Justin Ahrens for another one, it was a 24-12 lead that forced Purdue to call a timeout with 6:55 remaining in the half.
Kaleb Wesson picked up a second foul roughly a minute later and would sit for the final 5:59 of the half, and the Buckeyes’ scoring stayed with him on the bench. Ohio State would go the next 5:05 without scoring, and when it broke that stretch, it actually came on a inadvertent tip-in by Purdue’s Trevion Williams that would be credited to Andre Wesson.
It mattered little.
"I thought our defense was as good and as sound as we’ve played all year," Holtmann said. "Really good win for our group."