When Ohio State and Purdue last played, A.J. Hammons, the towering senior center for the Boilermakers, had seven blocks that helped guide his team to a turning point victory over the Buckeyes earlier this month.
When the teams reconvene Sunday evening at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, this could be considered another pivotal game in Big Ten play with the regular season nearing an end.
"There’s no more room just to have an off night, we know if we have an off night, there’s a chance that we might not make the NCAA Tournament," said Shannon Scott, the senior guard.
And this time, Ohio State says it’s ready for the 7-foot, 260-pound center who terrorized it under the basket in West Lafayette. Sort of.
Asked if the Buckeyes had been practicing for Hammons, the swatting menace beneath the rim, coach Thad Matta smiled and said, “Nah, because we don’t have anybody that can block seven shots in a game.”
He laughed and added: “We just need to be more aware of the penetration and the big guys gotta do a better job of posting too and holding their seal and that sort of thing.”
Indeed, as Ohio State searches for another win to bolster its resume before the Big Ten tournament, the Buckeyes have called upon the likes of big men Amir Williams and Trey McDonald (senior transfer Anthony Lee remains out with a groin strain) to neutralize Hammons and freshman center Isaac Haas, who is also 7 feet tall.
The matchup, inevitably, seems to present a quandary for Matta’s club, whose lack of an inside presence has plagued it for the last three years. This season has been no different.
In what would appear to be a mismatch between Purdue’s chief strength and Ohio State’s greatest weakness, the Buckeyes are calling for a group effort to combat the flaw.
“If Hammons is coming to block the shot, obviously Amir, Trey or Anthony will be open,” Scott said. “So we’ve got to find a way to get them the ball.”
The problem, however, is a systemic lack of production from Williams, McDonald and Lee that has doomed them at times this season. Between the three big men, they average 4.4 points a game.
In particular, Williams, the much-maligned senior center, will be primarily charged with dueling Hammons tomorrow night.
“I just go out and play the game, just go out and competing and playing basketball,” he said. “Don’t think too much of it, just go out and play.”
Matta said, “We need Amir Williams to play (well) — he’s got 80 minutes in this arena left in his career and he needs to cherish and value every one of the minutes on the court.”
He added: "Whoever we have is gonna have to get the job done. I mean, it’s all five guys, there’s no question. We can’t pin it one guy to stop somebody, everybody’s gotta be involved with it."