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Veteran Buckeyes face Purdue

COLUMBUS — For three years in a row, Ohio State coach Thad Matta started each season building a team from scratch.

Kids leaving for the NBA after just one college season, graduations and transfers had decimated the roster. Continuity and unity took a beating.

“It’s hard to explain how difficult it is to go into a season knowing that you’re going to count on guys who really haven’t proven themselves,” Matta said Tuesday.

Still, the most difficult aspect for Matta was what the lack of shared experiences meant later on. Because there was so much turnover — five players who played one season left for the NBA in a three-year span) there was never a feeling of camaraderie.

This year, the Buckeyes returned almost everyone. They hang out together, live together, laugh together — and play pretty well together, too.

The No. 9 Buckeyes (20-6, 10-3) meet No. 4 Purdue (21-3, 9-3) on Wednesday night, with the loser falling a game off the pace in the Big Ten race. Ohio State has won its last nine conference games, the Boilermakers their last seven.

The Buckeyes are undoubtedly talented — led by national player of the year candidate Evan Turner — but they believe what has helped them over rough spots in a game or the season has been their friendship.

“We do all have the same personalities,” center Dallas Lauderdale said. “We watch the same TV shows, the same DVDs and we like the same thing — basketball, pretty much. I can’t really describe it. It’s a crazy feeling. But we like each other.”

They’re a likable bunch. They don’t have chips on their shoulder, they’re intelligent and they enjoy talking about what they do.