The last time Ohio State welcomed the No. 1 team in the country to Columbus, the Buckeyes emerged victorious against Duke.
This time, No. 24 Ohio State will welcome conference foe No. 1 Purdue to the Schottenstein Center at 7 p.m. Thursday in what could be a major Big Ten battle.
Junior center Zach Edey has powered Purdue to a 13-1 record, scoring at least 21 points in the Boilermakers’ ranked wins over Duke and Gonzaga. The 7-foot-4, 305-pound native of Toronto, Ontario, is averaging a double-double, second in the nation with over 13 rebounds per game and registering a Big-Ten-leading 21.7 scoring average.
“He’s the most dominant player in college basketball,” head coach Chris Holtmann said. “We know that, so it’s going to take a team effort.”
Edey is second in the country with 70 offensive rebounds in 13 games, which will be a challenge for the Buckeyes in controlling the paint and collecting misses after defensive stops.
Junior forward Zed Key said Edey is “very effective” in the post, and the Buckeyes will need to work together in an attempt to slow him down.
“You have to hone in on that and it’s a team effort,” Key said. “It’s not just him you have to worry about. They’re a good team, they’re No. 1. They’re not No. 1 for no reason, so we just got to be ready to go tomorrow.”
Holtmann said the 6-foot-8 Key and freshman center Felix Okpara will “take a large role” in matching up with Edey, and it will be an important opportunity for Key’s defensive responsibility.
“I think this is an opportunity for Zed to really grow in his ability to defend a dominant post player,” Holtmann said. “He’s now in a primary role. He really hasn’t had this responsibility as much.”
The Boilermakers and Buckeyes rank first and second, respectively, in the Big Ten in rebound margin, an area where Holtmann said Purdue is dangerous, especially with Edey inside.
“They’re an elite offensive rebounding team,” Holtmann said. “I think that gets them to the line, and they do a good job attacking closeouts.”
Alongside dominant performances, there have been only a few nights opponents have limited the Boilermakers’ big man: Edey registered 31 points and 22 rebounds against Minnesota Dec. 4 in an 89-70 Boilermakers win. Six days later, he registered only five made field goals in an 11-point performance at Nebraska as Purdue won a tight 65-62 contest.
Key, who has defended the paint with authority this season, garnering 17 blocks and averaging just over eight rebounds per game, said while Edey and North Carolina senior center Armando Bacot display similar physicality, there is a slight difference between the two.
“They play very physical in the paint, and obviously Bacot is 7-foot,” Key said. “Zach Edey is a little taller and a little bit heavier.”
Holtmann said due to Edey’s size and strength, defensive leverage and consistency will be an important factor defending in the key, especially since Edey’s touch has improved into his third season and his dominance stems from second chances.
“I think it’s about angles, it’s about awareness, but great effort,” Holtmann said. “You might have been able to force him to miss some early in his career, but he’s really accurate. I think you got to make him miss, and then you got to prevent him from touching the ball and certainly getting to the offensive glass. That’s where he’s so dominant.”
Ohio State’s win last season against the top-ranked Blue Devils came down to the wire, and Key said he expects nothing less when he and the Buckeyes battle Edey and the Boilermakers until the final horn Thursday.
“The game’s going to come down to the last possession,” Key said. “We’ve got to value the ball, play defense and as I just said, execute, and we’re going to get the outcome we’re looking for.”
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