Shorthanded Ohio State suffers first loss of season in Big Ten opener at Purdue

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State Kyle Young (25) boxes out Purdue forward Trevion Williams (50) during the first half of an NCAA men's basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020 at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Undersized but maybe not overmatched, No. 20 Ohio State was hanging around.

With only nine available scholarship players for their Big Ten debut, the Buckeyes had traded first half runs, withstood what Purdue’s Trevion Williams and his teammates could throw at them and were within six at the midpoint of the second half when they got the look they wanted. Faking a down screen, junior sharpshooter Justin Ahrens cut back to the top of the circle, took the pass in stride and launched an open three-point attempt.

It was dead-on, but long. And then, at the other end, Aaron Wheeler drained a three-pointer of his own. The sequence was a six-point swing that gave Purdue a 54-45 lead it would hold onto.

In front of a smattering of parents, a few dozen cardboard cutouts and an empty student section, Purdue (5-2, 1-0 Big Ten) handed the Buckeyes (5-1, 0-1) their first loss of the season and first in a conference opener since 2017 with a 67-60 final.

It wasn’t a 35-point thrashing like Ohio State absorbed the last time it came to Mackey Arena. It wasn’t a thrilling, last-second win like Ohio State’s trip prior to that one. In their toughest test of the season so far, the Buckeyes just didn’t have enough.

Justice Sueing led the Buckeyes with 14 points. Williams flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 16 points, nine rebounds and eight assists to lead Purdue.

Ohio State missed nine of its final 10 shots to close the game.

The Buckeyes took a hit to their depth even before the game began. In addition to E.J. Liddell (mononucleosis) and Seth Towns (knee) unavailable, sophomore center Ibrahima Diallo was not with the team after suffering a concussion during Sunday’s win against Cleveland State, leaving the Buckeyes without their tallest player.

Then, in an effort to shake things up and send a message to his seniors, coach Chris Holtmann benched seniors CJ Walker and Kyle Young and removed junior Justin Ahrens after he started against the Vikings. In their places, Bucknell transfer guard Jimmy Sotos and freshman center Zed Key made their first starts for Ohio State and junior wing Musa Jallow made his first start of the season after missing all of last year following reconstructive ankle surgery.

It marked the season debut for that lineup, although it didn’t stay on the court long. Young and Walker were the first two substitutions of the game, checking in at the 16:23 mark.

After falling behind early, Ohio State’s offense started to click near the midpoint of the first half, scoring on four straight possessions to take a 22-17 lead on what was a 12-3 run keyed by a three-pointer from Gene Brown and another from Ahrens, but Purdue responded by getting to the free-throw line and staying there.

The Buckeyes were whistled for two fouls on consecutive defensive possessions, putting Purdue in the bonus for the final 8:06 of the half. The Boilermakers then took control late and were poised to take a big lead into the second half when an 8-0 run gave them a 36-28 lead during a stretch that saw them score on seven of nine possessions. But after an Ohio State timeout with 2:06 left in the half, Sotos was drilled by Purdue’s Mason Gillis while scoring on a layup on the left block.

He hit the ensuing free throw, and Walker found Jallow in transition on the next possession for an alley-oop layup that helped the Buckeyes pull within 38-33 at the break. The statistics for both teams were almost identical save for one difference: Purdue was perfect on 11 first-half free throws while Ohio State was 4 for 5. Otherwise, the Buckeyes were 13 for 27 from the floor, Purdue was 12 for 27 and both teams were 3 for 11 from three.

Purdue’s size advantage primarily manifested itself by setting up other players. Trevion Williams, who entered the game tied for the team lead at 13.3 points per game, had four first-half assists against Ohio State’s efforts to double-team him.