It was a mixed bag for Hammons in game of what-ifs with the third-ranked Buckeyes. He led the team in scoring with 18 points and posted a career-high 16 rebounds, using his 7-foot frame to dominate. But his problem was making it all useful.
Hammons went 6-of-16 from the field, most of those misses coming underneath the hoop. For those five blocks and four assists, he added four turnovers. The performance can be used to sum up a game that could've gone in the Boilermakers' favor.
"We just didn't finish—whether it was A.J. at the rim or those other guys," said Purdue coach Matt Painter. "We had some really great chances and we came away with nothing."
The effort was strong in Hammons' first double-double this season. He was hustling all over the court and fighting for the rebounds he didn't win on pure size alone. It was an encouraging showing from the Boilermakers' big man.
Even so, Hammons wasn't satisfied with his showing. He recognized the flaws in his otherwise impressive game.
"I think I played OK," Hammons said. "It was just too many turnovers for me, and then I didn't finish at the basket. 6-for-16, that's just horrible."
Tuesday marked Hammons' first start in six games and he relished the opportunity. After the game, he sat before the media as one of the game's top players, but he had a loss to discuss. In a game that could've been won by the Boilermakers, those little mistakes are what stood out.
"We did well offensively, but it was just a couple shots that we didn't make," Hammons said.
Much of Hammons' success came at the charity stripe, where he knocked down six of eight attempts. The center was able to get Ohio State's Amir Williams into early foul trouble and took advantage of the mismatches underneath the hoop. Ohio State adjusted at halftime and made Hammons earn his points. This is where his struggles showed and it proved to be costly.
Thad Matta, the Buckeyes' decorated head coach, offered high praise for the strides Hammons has made.
"To see A.J.'s improvements over time—for him to have a double-double today—his future is great as Purdue's is," said Matta.
The best effort from Hammons this season will be defined by those big plays. It's the ones he couldn't finish which he wants to have back.