After falling to as low as 2-6 in Big Ten play, the No. 25 Ohio State Buckeyes mens basketball team had battled all the way back to a more respectable 7-7 record in conference. While being a .500 program may not be all that impressive to some, in a B1G season that has been nothing short of a gauntlet for almost everyone involved, all but two teams have six or more conference losses on the year.
Following an abysmal month of January, the Buckeyes have turned it up as of late, and while they still have their flaws, the team had been able to rattle off five wins over its last six games. Ohio State has likely done enough at this point to earn themselves a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but would also like to finish the season strong in the quest for a higher seeding. Unfortunately, the road ahead does not get any easier.
Thursday night’s matchup against the No. 20 Iowa Hawkeyes was the first of two games in a row against ranked teams, with another matchup against Michigan and a road contest against Michigan State still looming before season’s end. The Bucks certainly have their work cut out for them, but would look to get the tough stretch started off on the right foot as they tipped things off in Iowa City.
Iowa has had the very definition of an up-and-down season as of late, alternating wins and losses for the greater part of the last month. Despite the inconsistency, the Hawkeyes still found themselves heading into the night with an 18-8 record overall on the year, and a 9-6 Big Ten record good enough to tie for third place in the conference. Would Ohio State have enough firepower to take down Big Ten leading scorer Luka Garza on his home floor in the only regular season meeting between the two teams?
The offensive output would certainly be enough, but an incredibly poor defensive effort in the first period ultimately was too much to overcome as Ohio State would 85-76 to Iowa. Garza showed out against the Buckeyes, posting a game-high 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting. The 85 points scored by the Hawkeyes were the second-most points OSU has allowed this season, behind only the 90 scored by Penn State in their defeat of the Bucks.
Ohio State did not get enough from its star players in Iowa City, as Kaleb Wesson and Duane Washington Jr. both had off nights shooting the basketball. While the pair finished with a combined 25 points, they also combined to shoot 9-of-23 from the floor — with many of those makes coming in garbage time. Both Kaleb Wesson and brother Andre Wesson fouled out in the contest.
Let’s take a look at some of the key numbers and statistics that led to Ohio State’s ultimate downfall on Thursday night.
Iowa’s shooting percentage in the first period.
Yes, you read that correctly. Iowa shot 62 percent in the first period, dropping an insane 46 points on the Buckeyes in the first 20 minutes of play. Luka Garza bullied Ohio State in all facets of the game, scoring 17 points in the opening period of 7-of-9 shooting from the floor including a pair of 3-pointers. Chris Holtmann had no answers defensively for the Hawkeye big man as his team put themselves in an early hole.
Despite Garza’s domination, the Bucks were able to at least stay in the game before the break. After Iowa had gotten out to as big as a 19-point lead, OSU cut it down to as little as eight before a late 3-pointer by Joe Wieskamp put the Hawkeyes back up 11 heading into halftime. When all was said and done after 20 minutes, Ohio State was staring down the barrel of a 46-35 deficit.
Ohio State’s turnovers, which as usual finished in double-digits.
Tell me if you've heard this one before: Ohio State turned the ball over way too much, ultimately leading to their demise. This Buckeye team has had a frustrating lack of focus when it comes to taking care of the basketball this season, giving the rock away all too often and finishing possessions without even getting a shot off seemingly more often than not.
It was more of the same against Iowa, where OSU turned it over a whopping 14 times. It has been the achilles heal for the Bucks all season long, ranking 11th out of 14 teams in the Big Ten in total turnovers while ranking 12th in the B1G with a -0.7 assist-to-turnover margin. Ohio State has had double-digit turnovers in all but three games this season. It looked like they may have turned the corner after tallying only five giveaways in the matchup with Michigan two weeks ago, but that has obviously not been the case following another sloppy performance.
The Buckeyes’ shooting performance from 3-point range.
Ohio State entered the night as the best 3-point shooting team in the Big Ten. The Bucks had been hitting at over a 38 percent clip from beyond the arc heading into the night — making as many shots from deep as the second-best shooting team in Michigan on 53 less attempts. That did not look like the case on Thursday, as nobody in Scarlet and Gray could hit from range against the Hawkeyes.
Whereas the team’s final 3-point shooting percentage finished at around 30 percent, that does not tell the story of the game, as the majority of the Buckeyes’ makes from downtown came in garbage time. Ohio State hit on just 3-of-13 attempts from deep in the first period, with four of their six makes in the second half coming in the last three minutes of action when the game was mostly out of hand.
Ironically, the Buckeyes are undefeated this season when making 10 or more 3-point shots, falling just one short of that mark — although one more make in this game would not have swayed the outcome in their favor.
The amount Ohio State out-rebounded Iowa on the offensive boards.
While there was few things the Buckeyes did well against the Hawkeyes, rebounding was surprisingly one of them. Despite being outsized by Iowa big men Luka Garza at 6-foot-11 and Ryan Kriener at 6-foot-10, Ohio State actually won the rebounding battle 38-29. The biggest discrepancy came at the offensive end, where the Bucks out-boarded the Hawkeyes 14-5, leading to 17 second-chance points.
E.J. Liddell led all OSU players with eight rebounds, while Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young each had seven. Young’s six offensive boards were a game-high.
Points scored by E.J. Liddell, a new career-high.
Looking early on like one of the only Ohio State players interested in the game at hand, forward E.J. Liddell had one of his best games as a Buckeye on Thursday night. Showcasing a physical brand of basketball underneath, the freshman showed no fear going in amongst the tall trees and battling it out for points on the interior. Over the past few games, it has looked as though Liddell has been steadily growing in confidence.
Despite standing at just 6-foot-6, Liddell plays big, and is a real powerful force in the paint. All in all, Liddell would finish with 17 points — a team-high, and a new career-high for the first-year big man. It was the most the freshman has scored at the collegiate level thus far, with his previous career-high being the 14 points he scored in Ohio State’s first loss of the season against Minnesota.
Ohio State’s next contest is a big one, as the Buckeyes will play host to the No. 7 Maryland Terrapins (22-4, 12-3) — the No. 1 team in the Big Ten — this Sunday, Feb. 23 at 4:00 p.m. ET. The marquee matchup will be broadcast on CBS.