We have all been bamboozled this season. The Ohio State Buckeyes, who hadn’t won a game against a ranked team this season — and have found ways to fall apart down the stretch in those they could have — beat the living daylights out of the No. 22 Iowa Hawkeyes on Tuesday night.
The hallmarks of a heartbreaking loss for OSU were there early: Kaleb Wesson got in to foul trouble, Iowa jumped out early in a topsy-turvy first half, Luther Muhammad was struggling again, and things were close in the waxing moments of the first half.
And then the Buckeyes ran away with it.
A 20-point (!!!) win, with Justin Ahrens leading the way, and the Hawkeyes having no answer on offense or defense led to this major win getting added to Ohio State’s NCAA Tournament résumé. Considered a No. 9/No. 10 seed entering this week, the Bucks have gained a little ground into being a “safe” team for the Big Dance. But let’s not get it twisted: they haven’t punched their ticket to the dance just yet.
But, before Purdue hosts the Bucks this weekend, let’s take a look at a few things from this very good win against Iowa.
Justin Ahrens, Mr. Big Game
Against Maryland, Ahrens got the start and put nine points on the board. He got all of his points from beyond the arc, and had his best game of his young collegiate career. Just one game later, though, he went off for a career-high 29 points.
Twenty-nine big ones... unreal.
Ahrens was clutch from downtown. He was 6-of-10 from range — and that’s after missing his first four from beyond the arc — and went 7-of-11 from the floor on the game. He also had a beautiful sequence where he got a steal and score (and additional free throws for an intentional foul).
Momentum shift!— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) February 27, 2019
Justin Aherns finished through contact, and the intentional foul was the cherry on top for @OhioStateHoops: pic.twitter.com/8ek2AaEMDS
The wild part is that 25 of the points came in the second half. Because of him, the Bucks pulled away, instead of folding as they had in the past. From the free throw line, Ahrens was even better; he went a perfect 9-of-9.
It’s amazing what happens when shots fall, especially the ones that count for three points instead of two. This was a display of all-around good basketball. Not just from Ahrens, but from the whole team. Even though nobody got close to Justin’s total, five Buckeyes scored in double figures.
The early fouls from Kaleb Wesson were shook off, and he ended the game with only two whistles against. His 14 points and 11 rebounds were a key attribution to stretching the Hawks thin on both sides of the ball. His older brother, Andre Wesson, poured in 11 points and five boards.
Keyshawn Woods collected 13 points, and Duane Washington Jr. tallied 10 points, all in the first half.
The question now is this: Can Ahrens keep up at least a 10-point performance every night? Washington was on pace to be the leading scorer after the first half, but scored nothing in the second. Ahrens had four points in the first 20 minutes before exploding after the break. I think with Washington and Ahrens as scoring threats, this is all that the Buckeyes need to get teams to play against the whole team instead of just Kaleb. The old attack plan was simple: zone defense and get Kaleb into foul trouble. Now, there’s an appearance of multiple legitimate scorers.
That’s great news for Chris Holtmann — and bad news for any team that has to face the Buckeyes.
Live by the three
The saying goes that a team can “live by the three, or die by the three.” Ohio State was definitely living because of the three on Tuesday night.
As mentioned, Ahrens carried the squad from three, but Andre, Washington and C.J. Jackson each hit two downtown shots apiece.
In total, OSU was 12-of-32 from three-point range. That’s not too bad, but what were to happen if Ahrens had a bad night? Would that throw off the whole team’s groove on deep shots? When a couple guys heat up, the rest of the team heats up, too; and we’ve already seen what happens when things go cold, as they in the second half against at Michigan State.
However, this kind of performance gets teams thinking about OSU having a deep threat. Purdue will be a very good road test to see if they actually respect the three. If Washington, Ahrens and/or Jackson make shots, we could be seeing another upset (and ranked win) for Holtmann’s team.
The one needed
When there were six games remaining on the schedule, the thought that crossed the mind was that if OSU only defeated Northwestern both times and lost the other four, would that be enough to secure them a spot in the NCAA Tournament? In that scenario, they would have to at least win one — if not two — games in the Big Ten Tournament.
Beating Iowa alleviated a lot of the pressure heading into the homestretch. The next two games are on the road, and all bets are off when you have to travel away from home. Just look around the conference; Rutgers beat Ohio State in their friendly confines, as did Penn State when they took down Michigan.
Northwestern is still a mandatory must-win game in Evanston, Ill. on Mar. 6, but losing to Purdue (3/2 in West Lafayette) and Wisconsin (3/10 in Columbus) is no longer the end of OSU’s post-season hopes.
Currently, OSU is 18-10 overall and 8-9 in conference play, but beating Northwestern may be all that they need to secure their ticket to the Big Dance.
I am a strong advocate that a 20-win season looks good on paper, and by being in a major conference, is the “lock-them-in” mark for a team searching for admission into said dance.
BONUS: T is for Technical
It all started when Kaleb got his second foul called against him early in the game. Already, Coach Holtmann wasn’t happy, but after that, well, that’s when he got T’ed up.
“That’s two bullshit fouls” - Chris Holtmann pretty visibly annoyed with #BigTenRefs— Jeremy Birmingham (@Birm) February 27, 2019
Connor McCaffery got T’ed up after his attempt for a reach led to him catching a shoulder on the chin. He was called for a foul on the reach, and pleaded his case against the refs.
Not long after that Papa McCaffery, the head coach, got T’ed up.
Are the refs too trigger happy with giving out fouls? Or were all three justifiable?
The fact that we had three technicals called in the game shows that this may have been a little too chippy between refs and teams. However, we are almost in March — and teams are, literally, playing for their postseason lives.
I like the fuel from the coaches. Connor’s foul was of his own doing, but I respect the coaches going to bat for their players, regardless of how right or wrong they are. However, not a big fan of chasing refs down a hallway in order to drop f-bombs like this though.
Uh, wow. Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey was just screaming at an official walking down a hallway of Value City Arena. "You cheating motherfucker! You're a fucking disgrace!"— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) February 27, 2019