COLUMBUS, Ohio - After blowing out teams by a margin of more than 20 points at home in Big Ten play the Buckeyes had a knuckle-buster against Purdue on Tuesday night. Purdue's D.J. Byrd did his best to channel his inner-Brandon Paul going for 24 points on 8-12 shooting from beyond the arc. But William Buford found his stroke and helped Ohio State (21-3, 9-2) gut out a win against a Purdue (15-9, 5-6) that refused to go away, 87-84.
Jared Sullinger had 18 points and six rebounds in limited time after first getting into foul trouble and then suffering a nasty looking fall late in the game. DeShaun Thomas and Aaron Craft each had 13 points. The Boilers got 14 points from Lewis Jackson off of the bench and 13 points from Robbie Hummel who as plagued by a bad shooting night in going 4-13 from the field.
"Every game in the Big Ten is a dogfight and I just think it is great to see that we were still able to find a way to win even though they shot the ball the way that they did," Craft said. "Purdue is a great team and we knew they were going to come in... and be ready to go."
Byrd went 5-5 from distance in the first half and Thad Matta tried putting several different defenders on him during the first half. In the second half he cooled down in going 2-4 from distance but seven three pointers kept Purdue in the thick of things after Ohio State opened up a game high lead of 11 points with less than four minutes to go in the first half.
"D.J. Byrd was 5-5 from three (point range)," Purdue head coach Matt Painter said. "When you are going to compete against a team like this, someone is going to have to be special and you are going to have to take care of the ball. I thought that Byrd was special tonight... I thought we played well enough to win we just didn't get a couple of those breaks there at the end."
The teams would go into the halftime locker room knotted up at 40 apiece and there was a fear that Ohio State's 38-game winning streak at home was in jeopardy. The Buckeyes had not lost at Value City Arena since 2010 when strangely enough they played Purdue.
Purdue would come out of the gate hot and take a three point lead after a hoop and foul shot by Kelsey Barlow push ahead for the first time of the game since Barlow had a poster-worthy dunk over Sullinger to make it 25-24.
The two teams would trade the lead for the next 15 minutes until the score was tied at 73 apiece. Going into Tuesday night's game the Buckeyes had only been allowing 55.7 points per game in league play. Matta was waiting for Buford to show some senior leadership and he delivered in scoring seven straight points including a three pointer from the top of the circle where he was not set but found the stroke to bury it.
"My teammates were able to get me the ball, they set great screens for me," Buford said. "Fortunately I was able to knock them down so I owe it all to my teammates."
Tuesday was the 7th straight game that Buford has scored in double figures but during that stretch he has not shot better than 46-percent. Fans were starting to get restless with Buford but there was no worry coming from the Ohio State bench.
"I haven't been worried about Will," Matta said. "I think Will has been playing pretty good basketball and maybe the shots haven't fallen for him but nobody makes them all."
The Boilers would not go down easy however and kept bombing away (11-19 from 3-pt. range) and Byrd would hit a three with 14 seconds left to get it down to 85-81 but the Buckeyes were solid from the line and salted it away.
"We made the plays that we had to make down the stretch to win the game," Matta said.
Buford's 29 points was a career high and moved him past fellow Toledo native Jim Jackson into 6th place on the Ohio State all-time scoring list. Michael Redd is next up and Buford needs 84 more points to reel him in.
"Just throughout the game, I was seeing good looks and I was taking them," Buford said. "I was just shooting the ball like my teammates have been telling me to do."
Not to get lost in the hard fought win was the scary moment for Sullinger. Matta believed that his big guy would be good to go for Saturday's game with Michigan State but admitted that he hadn't had much time to check in with the training staff.
"I just came down and fell a little funny," Sullinger said after the game. "We will find out what happened but I will be good for Saturday."
The win is Ohio State's 39th straight win at home. That streak is the second longest in the country (Kentucky leads the way) and is the second longest stretch in Ohio State history (Ohio State won 50 between 1959 and 1964).
Ohio State will look to run that streak up to 40 games with a home game on Saturday night against Michigan State at 6:00 pm (EST) on ESPN.