After squeaking into the NCAA Tournament with a 19-14 record, Ohio State heads to Tulsa to take on the Big 12 Tournament champion Iowa State Cyclones. The Buckeyes enter the NCAA Tournament as an 11-seed for the first time in school history. Ohio State and Iowa State will be the last game of the night in Tulsa, tipping at approximately 9:45 p.m. ET on TBS.
After beating Indiana on Thursday afternoon in the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State essentially secured their 29th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and second straight under head coach Chris Holtmann. The win over the Hoosiers was the only one Ohio State would get in Chicago, falling the next day to Michigan State 77-70. The Buckeyes hung tough for a little over a half before the Spartans pulled away, building a 21-point lead with just over four minutes to go. A late run by Ohio State made the scoreline a little more respectable.
Keyshawn Woods looks like he saved some of his best basketball of the season for postseason play. Woods was Ohio State’s leading scorer in both Big Ten Tournament games, following up his 18-point performance against Indiana with 16 points against Michigan State. The senior will be looking for a better performance in his second NCAA Tournament appearance. Woods scored just four points on 2-8 shooting when Wake Forest lost to Kansas State in a First Four game two years ago.
Another Ohio State senior who is hoping his college basketball career doesn’t end tonight is C.J. Jackson. Not only did Jackson move up to eighth on Ohio State’s all-time list with 148 career three-pointers, but he is four points away from 1,000 career points. If Jackson reaches that milestone, he’ll become the 58th Ohio State player to score at 1,000 points.
Despite a sluggish finish to the season, Ohio State can come into this game with some optimism since they’ll have Kaleb Wesson in the lineup. After Wesson was suspended for the final three games of the regular season, the sophomore big man was reinstated for the Big Ten Tournament. Wesson made up for lost time against the Hoosiers, recording his fourth double-double of the season, finishing with 17 points and 13 rebounds. While not as effective against Michigan State, there is no doubt the Ohio State offense poses more a threat with him on the floor.
When the brackets were revealed on Sunday evening, Ohio State learned their opponent would be Iowa State, a team they have a perfect 6-0 record against all-time. The Buckeyes and Cyclones have met up a couple times in the NCAA Tournament. Back in 1985, these two teams played in Tulsa, with Ohio State earning a 75-64. The more memorable meeting between the two schools came in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, when the Buckeyes won the Round of 32 matchup with the Cyclones on an Aaron Craft three-pointer with half a second left. Craft finished with 18 points and six assists, while Deshaun Thomas scored a team-high 22 points. The win secured a trip to the Sweet 16 for Ohio State for the fourth straight year.
Iowa State heads into the NCAA Tournament on the strength of their fourth Big 12 Tournament title in the last six years. The Cyclones beat Baylor, Kansas State, and Kansas over a three-day span to secure the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. After a 13-18 record last season snapped a streak of six straight NCAA Tournament appearances, the Cyclones have turned things around in a hurry, entering tonight’s game with a 23-11 record.
In the Big 12 Tournament Championship Game, Iowa State used an 11-1 run over the last 6:19 of the first half to take a 32-22 lead over Kansas into the halftime break. Iowa State was able to keep the Jayhawks at bay in the second half, not allowing Kansas to get back inside double digits. Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year Lindell Wigginton came off the bench to score a team-high 17 points. Wigginton now has scored at least 16 points in five of the last six games. After averaging 16.7 points per game in his first season in Ames, Wigginton declared for the NBA Draft following last season, but decided to return to school.
The Cyclones get tremendous production from Wigginton, but Marial Shayok gets most of the headlines for Iowa State. The graduate transfer from Virginia has made the most of his only year in Ames, averaging 18.6 points per game this year. Shayok has impressed enough throughout the season to be named a finalist for the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award. The former Cavalier has reached double figures in scoring in all but two games this year.
Another transfer who has found success at Iowa State has been Michael Jacobson, who spent the first two years of his college career at Nebraska. Jacobson is averaging 11.5 points per game and is pulling down six rebounds per game. The forward was big on the boards against in the Big 12 Tournament against Kansas State, grabbing a career-high 16 rebounds. Jacobson followed that performance up with 14 points in the title game against Kansas. The former Cornhusker played in three games against the Buckeyes while at Nebraska, with his best performance coming when he scored 11 points and secured eight rebounds in a 67-66 loss to Ohio State in 2017.
Rounding out Iowa State’s starting lineup is a trio of guards. Nick Weiler-Babb provides the veteran leadership and does a little bit of everything for the Cyclones. Weiler-Babb is averaging 9.2 points per game, five rebounds per contest, and four assists per game, which makes him the only Big 12 player to reach those numbers. The transfer from Arkansas doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, as evidenced by 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The future is bright in the backcourt for the Cyclones with freshmen Tyrese Haliburton and Talen Horton-Tucker. Haliburton is second in the country with a 4.6 assist-to-turnover ratio, and has committed a turnover in the last four games. Horton-Tucker led Big 12 freshmen in scoring with 12.1 points per game, and was named to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team.
Opposing Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann will be Steve Prohm, who is in his fourth season at Iowa State. Under Prohm, Iowa State has made the NCAA Tournament three times in those four seasons. After starting his head coaching career at Murray State, Prohm came to Ames after Fred Hoiberg left to become head coach of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls. Prohm enters tonight’s game with a 83-52 record with the Cyclones, and a 187-81 career record in his eight years as a head coach.
ESPN BPI: Iowa State 71.7%
Ohio State’s two trips to the NCAA Tournament under Chris Holtmann couldn’t have more of a different feel to them coming in. Last year the Buckeyes entered the NCAA Tournament with Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop, along with the strong senior presence of Jae’Sean Tate. This year’s squad enters tonight’s game with Iowa State having lost four of their last five games.
Some of Ohio State’s struggles late in the regular season are due to the three-game suspension of Kaleb Wesson, but it hasn’t helped that the Buckeyes don’t have an established second scoring option after Wesson. C.J. Jackson and Keyshawn Woods have shown glimpses over the last three games, but the seniors will have to be at the top of their game if they want to knock off the Cyclones.
This game will be come down to turnovers. Iowa State has two of the best ball handlers in the country in Nick Weiler-Babb and Tyrese Haliburton. Ohio State has struggled with turnovers for a lot of the season, and they won’t be able to give extra possessions to an Iowa State squad that has more firepower.
With Iowa State featuring a smaller lineup for most of the game, it will be crucial for Kaleb Wesson to stay out of foul trouble tonight. If Wesson can give the Buckeyes an effort like he did in the Big Ten Tournament against Indiana, Ohio State will be a tougher out than many are predicting them to be. The Buckeyes will also need Kaleb’s brother Andre Wesson to be on target and provide Ohio State some extra offense to go with everything else he does on the court.
In the end, Iowa State is just a little too talented for the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s defense will give Marial Shayok all that he can handle, but the Virginia graduate transfer will have too much help to take some of the pressure off. The mix of senior leadership and young talent will give Iowa State the edge tonight in Tulsa. Chris Holtmann’s team gives maximum effort with their season on the line, but it won’t be quite enough.