Tipoff: Ohio State at Purdue, 1 p.m. Tuesday
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Purdue guards have a tough task against Ohio State's steal-happy Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott in today's Big Ten opener.
Are Terone and Ronnie Johnson, Bryson Scott, Kendall Stephens and Sterling Carter ready for it?
We're about to find out.
Craft and Scott are two of the nation's best defensive guards. Each has 30 steals this season. Each has a knack for defending up close and personal despite the new hand-check rules. Each is ruthless in his execution.
“When they see weakness, they are very aggressive,” coach Matt Painter said. “When you turn your back on the ball, when you're loose with the ball, they will attack you.”
That attack mode has enabled Ohio State to rank third nationally in scoring defense (54.0 points allowed) and field goal percentage defense (36.4 percent). It is first in three-point percentage defense (24.3).
“If you take care of the ball and you go after it and you're strong, if you show the ability to break them down on the dribble where they have to worry about containing the dribble, you have a better chance,” Painter said.
“If you show signs of weakness they'll get into you, they won't let you get into the paint, they won't let you drive and won't let you get into shooting rhythm. It's very important that you're strong with it, set good screens and move the ball.”
Craft has made a career with aggressive, disruptive defense. He is quick, relentless and fearless.
“Aaron Craft is one of the best defensive guards in the country if not THE best in the country, especially on the ball,” Painter said. “He does a great job of waiting for the ball. He understands what the other team is trying to do. He has really good instincts.
“Craft is just a winner. If you don't need him to score, it's no big deal. If you need him to score, it's no big deal. He imposes his will on the game.”
Scott does the same thing.
“(Scott) is really good," Painter said. "He is probably the second or third best on-ball defender in our league.”
Terone and Ronnie Johnson figure to be at the offensive forefront as Purdue (10-3) tries for the upset over No. 3 Ohio State (13-0). They combine for 24.8 points, 76 assists and 41 turnovers.
“When they make good decisions and play under control, they have a better assist-to-turnover ratio, they shoot better and they get more people involved,” Painter said. “That's what we strive for in our guards.
“When they let the game come to them, when they're opportunistic, they are very good. When they draw two to three people and don't get the ball out of their hands, that's when we have problems.”
That's also a key for freshman Bryson Scott, a former Northrop standout. He averages 9.8 points in 17.5 minutes. He has 21 assists against 17 turnovers. He leads Purdue with 18 steals.
“He's done a good job and helped with energy and aggressive play on both ends,” Painter said. “He has to continue to work hard and lay it on the line.”
Scott occasionally gets too aggressive for his own good. Does he understand that some of that improvement will only come with more time and experience?
“No,” Painter said. “Anybody who is competitive doesn't understand that.They just want to play. I like that part in him. I like the fact it means something to him, that he wants to play more. He just needs to keep working and continue to be assertive.”
Purdue is 8-0 at Mackey Arena this season with an average victory margin of nearly 17 points. But none of those games came against an opponent of Ohio State's caliber.
“Any time you start conference play with one of the better teams in the country, it let's you know where you are,” Painter said. “This is a very good team that is battle tested. They've been through it. They have older guys. This will be a great challenge for us. We have to be mentally and physically tough to win.
“Our guys know it will be a little more physical and intense. It will be great competition.”