On a team that entered Wednesday’s home game against No. 20 Ohio State with six players averaging between 8.8 and 11.0 points per game, Purdue junior center A.J. Hammons has led the way in scoring despite going through occasional bouts with foul trouble. But in three of the Boilermakers’ last four games, all wins, the 7-footer has committed two fouls or less and that has allowed him to have a greater impact on the action.
Wednesday night Hammons didn’t reach double figures in scoring but he was a factor in other areas, as Purdue went on a 10-0 run late int he second half and ultimately held off the Buckeyes 60-58 in West Lafayette. Hammons scored seven points on 3-for-3 shooting from the field, and he also accounted for seven rebounds, seven blocks, two assists and two steals.
Against an Ohio State team that doesn’t have the pieces needed to match up with him, Hammons was at times a commanding presence in the post.
As for the scoring, that was handled by Rapheal Davis (20 points, six rebounds before fouling out) and Jon Octeus (14 points, seven rebounds). Purdue didn’t shoot a high percentage from the field, making 42.2% of their shots, but they did outscore the Buckeyes 19-6 from the foul line. And on a night in which the Buckeyes were without their best perimeter shooter in sophomore Marc Loving, the foul line had a significant impact on the outcome.
D’Angelo Russell scored 20 points to lead the way for Ohio State but he was made to work for his looks, and the freshman shot 7-for-18 from the field as a result. Sam Thompson scored nine points but did so on 4-for-10 shooting and fellow senior Shannon Scott (two points) made just one of his eight field goal attempts, producing numbers that had to be better if the Buckeyes were to account for the loss of their second-leading scorer.
And for that Purdue, which entered the game tops in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense (conference games only), deserves credit. And the focal point of the defense was Hammons, who served as the last line of defense on multiple occasions and did so without fouling. The good thing for Purdue this season is that they have freshman Isaac Haas to plug into the middle when need be, but Hammons has to stay on the floor (and be engaged) for the Boilermakers be at their best.
That hasn’t been an concern in recent games, which is one reason why Matt Painter’s team is now 7-3 in Big Ten play.