WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A.J. Hammons got the message after coming off the bench for six straight games.
He has to play harder. He has to become more of a factor. He has to be more critical of his own play.
On Tuesday, Purdue’s sophomore center did all of it. He had 18 points, 16 rebounds, five blocks and four assists in what may have been the best all-around game of his college career in a 78-69 loss to No. 3 Ohio State.
Yet Hammons believes his subpar shooting night and too many turnovers were part of the problem.
I think I played OK, Hammons said, noting he accounted for four of Purdue’s 12 turnovers. Just too many turnovers and not finishing. I was 6 of 16 from the field, that’s terrible.
Still, Hammons did a little bit of everything against the unbeaten Buckeyes. He drew fouls, made 6 of 8 from the free-throw line, set picks and protected the rim. His point total was a season best and his rebound and assist totals were both career highs. Plus, he avoided foul trouble.
Ronnie Johnson added 16 points, and Johnson’s older brother, Terone, had 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
That wasn’t good enough for the young Boilermakers (10-4, 0-1), who shot just 41.8 percent from the field and were 3 of 14 from 3-point range.
I thought he did a good job of staying in the game, playing without fouling, said coach Matt Painter, Hammons’ harshest critic. He passed the ball, he got blocks. I think this was the first game we’ve done a really good job of getting the ball to him in a position to score.
The difference was experience.
The Buckeyes’ LaQuinton Ross finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds, both career-highs, and Shannon Scott added a career-best 18 points and the two juniors accounted for all of the points in a decisive 10-2 second-half run.
Aaron Craft continually turned Purdue miscues into game-changing moments. Craft finished with seven points, eight rebounds, 10 assists and four steals against a team came into the game with four of the Big Ten’s top 10 freshman scorers, two of the league’s most dangerous sophomores and a perfect 8-0 record on their home court.
I thought down the stretch our veterans were as good as they could be, Ohio State coach Thad Matta said.
It’s an unusual luxury for Ohio State, which has had a parade of underclassmen leave early for the NBA draft.
Things are different this season. The Buckeyes have started the same two seniors and same three juniors in all 14 games, so when things got tough in the Big Ten opener, the veteran Buckeyes buckled down and came up big.
The combination has the Buckeyes (14-0, 1-0) rolling.
That’s something (experience) that we haven’t had the luxury of having very much at Ohio State, Matta said. I talk about it with our guys all the time, You’ve been through this before.’ You know we never panicked, and there’s no drill that you can do in practice to give them experience.
Ohio State, one of the nation’s seven remaining unbeaten teams, left Mackey Arena with the fifth-longest single-season winning streak in school history and the school’s best start since 24-0 in 2010-11. The Buckeyes did it while shooting 44.6 percent – 4 of 22 on 3-pointers – and being outrebounded 46-37.
Instead, the Buckeyes veterans dug down defensively.
After a first half in which neither team led by more than four, and with the Buckeyes’ centers getting into foul trouble against Hammons, Ohio State found a way out.
It pushed the ball inside early in the second half, extending the lead to 44-39. Forty-five seconds later, Terone Johnson tied it with a 3. Hammons tied it again at 46 on a tip-in with 13:57 left. Then, after a 6-0 run to take a 52-46 lead with 10:35 to go, Scott and Ross went on a scoring spree. Each of the juniors scored five points in the decisive 10-2 spurt. This time, it was too much for Purdue.