WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) – Purdue coach Matt Painter has his Boilermakers rekindling welcome memories.
They’re playing lockdown defense. They’re beating opponents to loose balls. And, yes, they’re even beating ranked teams with regularity.
Rapheal Davis scored 20 points Wednesday, and a stout defense rescued Purdue from its own free-throw shooting woes to barely hold on for a 60-58 upset over No. 20 Ohio State.
“I think we have really grown up,” Davis said. “Beating three Top 25 teams is really good, but we can get better in a lot of areas.”
Purdue (15-8, 7-3 Big Ten) hasn’t celebrated a stretch like this in years.
A four-game winning streak has the Boilermakers off to their best conference start since going 9-1 in 2007-08. They beat the Buckeyes for the first time in nearly four years, snapping a six-game skid.
Purdue has won three straight over ranked opponents for the first time since January-February 2010. All three of those wins have come with the Boilermakers unranked, a feat they last achieved during a January-February stretch in 1979.
Not surprisingly, the Mackey Arena crowd roared with approval as the buzzer sounded.
“It was a big game for us,” Painter said. “Ohio State has had our number.”
The Buckeyes (17-6, 6-4) also had their chances, including a 40-foot desperation heave from D’Angelo Russell at the buzzer. But the shot never came close, typifying a strange night for the Big Ten’s second-highest scoring team.
Russell finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists. The only other Buckeye in double figures was Amir Williams with 10 points.
Ohio State did play short-handed after school officials announced Marc Loving had been suspended indefinitely. Coach Thad Matta didn’t elaborate on the reason for the suspension, explaining only that Loving, who leads the Big Ten in 3-point shooting percentage at 53 percent, would have to earn his way back onto the team.
Yet the Buckeyes nearly pulled off an incredible comeback.
After trailing 36-28 early in the second half, they charged back to take two brief leads, at 41-40 and 44-42.
When Purdue answered with 10 straight points to make it 52-44, the Buckeyes’ took advantage of Purdue’s free-throw struggles to close the gap. Russell’s 3 with 31.2 seconds left made it 58-56. After Jon Octeus made 1 of 2 free throws, Russell made both of his to cut the deficit to 59-58 with 6.4 seconds to go.
Kendall Stephens then made 1 of 2 from the line and the Boilermakers’ defense buckled down and held on – just like Painter’s teams used to do in the 1990s when he also played as a Boilermakers guard.
“I told them that we don’t have to get a 3 if he could drive it all the way,” Matta said after Ohio State’s three-game winning streak ended. “(Bryson Scott) played good defense on him.”
Buckeyes: Without Loving, the Buckeyes were not themselves. They had no 3s in the first half, finished 4 of 15 from beyond the arc, and wound up with their second-lowest point total all season.
Boilermakers: One week after becoming the only Purdue player other than Joe Barry Carroll to block eight shots in a game, A.J. Hammons was back at it against the Buckeyes. He finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and seven blocks. Octeus added 14 points for the Boilermakers.
Buckeyes: visit Rutgers on Sunday.
Boilermakers: travel to Minnesota on Saturday.
Purdue honored one of its best-known ex-players, John Wooden, with a video tribute at halftime. Painter and several other former Boilermakers players including Troy Lewis, Robbie Hummel and Brian Cardinal, all talked about what Wooden meant to the university.
The Buckeyes are now in the midst of perhaps their toughest stretch of the season. They’ll play three of the next four on the road, with trips to Rutgers, Michigan State and Michigan.