Purdue struggled on the road all season until the start of February, when the Boilermakers beat Northwestern and Indiana away from home in the span of a week.
Now, the Boilers' season hangs in the balance and they'll have to win on the road to stay on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. At 14-11, they have little margin for error, and their next two games, at Ohio State and at Wisconsin, offer plenty of challenges.
The first of those two road games is today in Columbus, Ohio, to take on the Buckeyes.
Ohio State was once No. 2 in the AP Top 25 Poll before losing six of seven in December and January. The Buckeyes have since bounced back, winning four of their last five, including victories at Michigan and home against Rutgers.
The Boilermakers lost eight of the first 10 games they played away from Mackey Arena but seem to have found a formula that works away from home.
“Winning at Northwestern helped us play better at Indiana,” coach Matt Painter said. “You just try to grow with your confidence, with your play. After the Indiana game, as a coach I just felt unbelievably positive all the time. I was so positive in the game. Had a lot to be positive about. I thought even the things we struggled with, I thought we were trying to do the things we'd been working on.
“We just have to keep doing those things, and I think we lost some of that in the game against Penn State.”
Purdue lost 88-76 to the Nittany Lions Tuesday in West Lafayette in which the Boilers gave up 14 3-pointers. They also lacked energy at times, especially on defense. That usually has been a problem on the road this season and then Purdue has gotten back on track with energetic victories at home. This time, the Boilermakers will have to bring intensity on the road with them.
“Just having energy,” big man Trevion Williams said of the key to winning away from home. “We knew we would come out with energy (against Indiana). Everybody was excited for that game, everybody was waiting to play them, so having that energy and coming out ready to go from the start. ... Just come out firing.”
Purdue will need energy and movement on offense to beat a Buckeyes team that is giving up only 61.8 points per game, 19th in the country.
Ohio State has been dominant in the paint, holding opponents to just 41.4% on 2-point shot attempts, the fourth-best mark nationally.
That stinginess inside is foremost a function of Ohio State big man Kaleb Wesson's size in the post. The Buckeyes star closes off lanes to the hoop with savvy, and on offense he has a variety of post moves that can get opposing players in trouble.
It will be Williams' job to slow down Wesson, who averages 14.1 points and 9.4 rebounds.
“He's a very good player,” Williams said of Wesson. “He reminds me of myself almost. He's probably a better shooter than he was last year. ... He's a very physical post so that's where I get the idea of him reminding me of myself. It's going to take a team effort to shut him down.”
The Buckeyes will likely be without freshman guard D.J. Carton, the team's third-leading scorer, who has been out since Jan. 30 as he tries to improve his mental health.
Purdue at Ohio State
When: Noon today
Where: Value City Arena, Columbus
Records: Purdue (14-11, 7-7 Big Ten), Ohio State (16-8, 6-7)
Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM