Fresh off their home victory against the previously undefeated in-conference Wisconsin as well as close losses to Indiana and Michigan State earlier in the season, the Iowa Hawkeyes were looking to draw more Big Ten blood in Columbus to show they belong in the discussion of Big Ten contention. They nearly did so behind a flurry of offensive rebounding and a very effective fullcourt press that took a 24-point deficit and trimmed it to just four with 1:29 remaining. But, the Buckeyes used balanced scoring and solid shooting to hold off Iowa in the Schott by a 72-63 count.
At the outset, Iowa set the tone by dominating the offensive glass. In fact, it carried throughout the game as Iowa dominated the boards by a 40-34 margin including a stunning 22 offensive boards and 24 second chance points. There were multiple possessions with second, third, and even fourth chances to score as Amir Williams, Deshaun Thomas, and Evan Ravenel were unable to stay in front of their men on the glass as they fell victim to the tall and athletic Iowa frontcourt. The 6’8″ Aaron White (6 offensive rebounds) and 6’7″ Melsahn Basabe (4 offensive rebounds) led the effort. It’s not the first game where we’ve seen the Buckeyes, who lack size with the exception of the 6’11” Williams, struggle in this facet, and it remains a concern going forward, for a lack of effort as much as a size disparity. Amir finished with zero rebounds, and he had this to say following the game, ““The fact that I had zero rebounds is unacceptable. I am better than having zero rebounds in a game so that will make us lose games. I have to try to get around seven rebounds a game.”” I couldn’t agree more.
The Buckeyes led by just three at 21-18 with 6:27 to go in the first half in what was looking to be a low-scoring battle that the Buckeyes have been in for the last few games. But, the Buckeyes created some separation for themselves, going on a 13-4 run to close the half with six field goals by six different players, capped by a Lenzelle Smith Jr. offensive putback on an Evan Ravenel missed and-one free throw. LaQuinton Ross was one of those six scorers in that stretch, and he provided quite a boost in the first half with his 7 points on 3-of-4 shooting. Ross did have 4 turnovers, including a couple of painful ones on a simple lack of control while dribbling up the court. However, he grabbed five rebounds and played 20 minutes, his most since the conference opener against Nebraska and up from 3 minutes against Michigan and 9 at Michigan State.
One of the most startling developments of that first half was Ohio State taking a 12 point lead into the break with just 5 points from Deshaun Thomas. They were able to stay ahead due to 17 points off the bench and 8 from Smith Jr. Ohio State outshot Iowa 54-25% as well. The Buckeyes stretched the lead even further as the second half kicked off with a 19-7 run that was characterized by their physical brand of defense, forcing turnovers, chipping out passes down low, blocking shots, and fastbreaking for easy buckets. Amir Williams may not have had a rebound in this game, but he did have a whopping six blocks in just 17 minutes. The most entertaining play of the night could have been the sequence where the ball changed team possession a handful of times in just seconds as Aaron Craft chipped the ball out three different times with his imposing brand of in-your-face defense. With his 205th steal (he had four in the game), Craft passed Jay Burson for the all-time lead for steals in Ohio State basketball history, which is simply fascinating in just over two and a half seasons. The junior point said, “It’s a great honor but we have much more to worry about than individual awards. I probably would not have achieved it if some of the other players stayed this year.”
In command for so long, the Buckeyes fell victim to an overbearing officiating crew led by the geriatric and farsighted Mike Kitts. The Hawkeyes were in the bonus in the second half after just five and a half minutes. After just nine total fouls being called in the first half (six on Iowa), there were an earth-shattering THIRTY fouls whistled in the second half (sixteen of those on Ohio State, taking into account also that Iowa was forced to foul multiple times at the end of the game). Quite frankly, I thought I was going to be there all night!
The pace of the game was shattered, and combined with the fullcourt press that Iowa deployed so effectively, the Buckeyes were suddenly seeing their lead evaporate. For a span of six minutes, the Bucks came up with just three points and saw their lead shrink from 24 to 14. Then, after the foul disparity was 10-3 in favor of Iowa, the game got even more choppy as Kitts made it a point to even the foul count after causing the disparity in the first place. Aaron Craft spent a good chunk of the half at the line, converting 8-of-10. Coach Matta had this to say about his team, “Our fouling hurt us; defensively we had a hard time. We kept putting them at the foul line. You have to finish the play with a defensive rebound and we did not do that. We were playing with the pressure of them playing catch up.” OSU also turned it over 17 times, including 6 by Craft as the Hawkeye press was incredibly tough on the Buckeye guards, and eventually Craft lost his cool on an elbow thrown for an offensive foul, his fourth of the game.
Thomas and Craft were able to finish it off at the line, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Evan Ravenel added a couple of exclamation points on the end to stretch the lead for the 11 point victory. The Buckeyes shot uncharacteristically well at 52% for the game as Iowa shot just 35%. Iowa helped the Buckeyes out by converting just half of their 26 foul shots. White led the Hawkeyes with 13 points and 7 boards. Meanwhile, the Bucks got four in double digits in addition to Thomas (16 points, 6-of-11 FG) with Craft (12), Smith Jr. (12), and Ravenel (11) also getting there.
With the win, OSU stays just one behind Michigan, Indiana, and Michigan State in the loss column at 4-2 in conference play along with Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Purdue. Next up, the Buckeyes head to Happy Valley to take on Penn State for a high noon game on Saturday. The Nittany Lions are 0-6 in conference and just 8-10 on the season.
(Photo: Jay LaPrete/AP)