Still growing, Ohio State's Seth Towns comes up big in clutch moments to beat Purdue

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State forward Seth Towns (31) celebrates a basket against Purdue during overtime of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big Ten Conference tournament in Indianapolis, Friday, March 12, 2021. Ohio State defeated Purdue 87-78 in overtime. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS – Think of the progression of Seth Towns as more of a zigzag than a straight, upward line.

That’s what Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann has frequently alluded to since the Buckeyes added the Columbus native as a graduate transfer from Harvard last spring. As Towns worked his way back to playing shape after a two-year absence due to a left knee injury, Towns had a steep hill to summit that was filled with peaks and valleys.

For a five-game stretch in January, Towns’ growth was showing in games. He played double-digit minutes in each of them, averaging 6.2 points and twice hitting the double-digit scoring mark with his old-school, head-fake-and-banked-in-jumpers game.

Then came a dip, and in his next nine games Towns would score 15 total points while missing practice days and battling through his continual recovery. Throughout, though, his teammates said he stayed calm, waiting for the chance for it to all come together again.

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Purdue turned out to be the unfortunate victim. Friday, in a Big Ten quarterfinal game at Lucas Oil Stadium that had a little bit of everything, Towns helped the Buckeyes shake off a second-half collapse by scoring five of his season-high-tying 11 points in overtime to help key an 87-78 win against the Boilermakers.

Along the way, Towns played a season-high 21 minutes, helping cover for injured teammate Kyle Young, who left four minutes into the second half and was being evaluated for a concussion following the game.

"Seth is always under control and calm," sophomore forward E.J. Liddell said. "I feel like Seth is always the level-headed one. He came out there and made some big plays, big shots."

It was the kind of performance Holtmann said he had texted Towns about Thursday night, promising that it was coming.

“I just felt really confident he was going to play well,” the coach said. “I felt good with his mindset, where his head was. I didn’t know if it would be this game or two games from now, but I did think he would play well. Give the kid credit, man. It’s a great credit to him.”

As Ohio State tried to find its footing against a Purdue team playing with momentum, it was clinging to a 75-74 lead when Towns took a pass from Duane Washington Jr. and nailed his second three-pointer of the game. It would ensure that the Boilermakers would never again have the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead, but he wasn’t done.

One possession later, ahead 78-76, Towns banked in a mid-range jumper from the left wing after another pass from Washington to push it back to a four-point lead with 2:07 and Purdue was done.

“We needed him tonight,” Washington said. “We connected on a couple back actions where he hit a three and shot faked, one dribble pull up and that’s his game, for sure. You guys don’t see it like we do every day in practice, off-the-glass middies. He had a huge game today.”

He even found himself pressed into some significant defensive duty late in the game. With Young unavailable and Liddell fouled out, Towns drew the defensive assignment of guarding Purdue big man and first-team all-Big Ten member Trevion Williams.

Throughout, Towns had a teammate chirping in his ear, encouraging him to keep going.

“He’s come a long way, man,” Washington said. “He’s still working through some things. He’s not gonna get it back right away. I’m always in his ear, (telling him to) stay confident, stay ready. We’re going to need more of that from him.”

That continues Saturday with a rematch against Michigan in the Big Ten semifinals, one that Washington predicted would happen again after the Wolverines won, 92-87, at Value City Arena on February 27.

"They’re a very good team," Washington said. "I told you before we were going to see them again, and here it is. I’m super excited."

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy