Ohio State opens post-Holtmann era vs. No. 2 Purdue

Feb 1, 2024; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes assistant coach Jake Diebler motions during the first half of the NCAA men   s basketball game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Value City Arena.
Credit: Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Second-ranked Purdue vying for its 10th straight win should be the headline when the Boilermakers face struggling Ohio State on Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.

But that narrative is overshadowed by the debut of Jake Diebler as interim head coach for the Buckeyes (14-11, 4-10 Big Ten) after the firing of seventh-year coach Chris Holtmann on Wednesday.

The decision by athletic director Gene Smith was a surprise only in the timing with six regular season games remaining. That Diebler’s first game is against the streaking Boilermakers (23-2, 12-2) makes it more intriguing.

Diebler told WNBS-TV that his message to the players was to take time to process what had happened this week.

“It’s natural for them to think about what’s next,” he said. “But there’s also a reality to what’s in front of us this season and the opportunity in front of us, so take time to process it.

“We have good leadership on this team. We’ve got to kind of shake off the initial feelings. We’re going to be able to move forward from this.”

The Buckeyes have lost nine of their past 11 games and are 9-25 the past two seasons in the Big Ten while going 30-30 overall.

While the game Sunday appears to be a mismatch, the Boilermakers showed some vulnerability in their 84-76 defeat of visiting Minnesota on Thursday.

Purdue took an early 11-point lead, but the Boilermakers trailed 45-35 after the first possession of the second half before going on a 28-10 spurt to secure their second comeback win of at least 10 points this season. They overcame a 12-point deficit against Alabama for a 92-86 win on Dec. 9.

“We’re experienced in different situations,” Purdue forward Mason Gillis said. “When we look at each other and say, ‘We got this,’ we believe that and have confidence in each other.”

Per usual, All-American center Zach Edey led the way for the Boilermakers. He made just 3 of 9 field goals in the first half but finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds.

“Just throw it inside. Just use him,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “They know we have him and he’s going to keep working. … I’ve watched him dominate games for four years now.”

Painter was more concerned about the Boilermakers at the other end of the floor.

“You’re not going to have success if you don’t defend,” he said. “If we weren’t going to be better defensively, we weren’t going to win the game.”

He now must prepare his team for the intangibles the Buckeyes could bring in their quest to salvage the season. Teams sometime get a “new-coach bump,” and Diebler hopes that’s the case.

“We’re going to be aggressive, and we’re going to be ready for the moment,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing we want to do, and we’ll certainly be well-prepared. Our guys are excited.

“They need to be confident. They need to play loose. They need to have some fun and most importantly, to play really, really hard. So, there’s no question in my mind that our guys are going to respond.”

–Field Level Media

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