Sunday afternoon brought two teams together in need of a victory, both emotionally and with regards to the Big Ten standings. No. 4 Ohio State (18-7, 12-7) currently sits in fifth place in the B1G, but were beaten by No. 3 Michigan last weekend, 92-87. It was a back and forth battle that wasn’t decided until the closing minutes, but with the loss, Ohio State’s aspirations for a Big Ten title were all but dashed.
They then faced the ninth-place Michigan State Spartans on Thursday, who had just beaten No. 5 Illinois two days prior. The Spartans entered last week with a record of 11-9, and 5-9 in conference play. But knocking off the Illini gave them new life, and they started creeping up the metaphorical tournament “bubble” following that victory. Tom Izzo and his gang then topped off their week by knocking off the No. 4 team in the nation as well, defeating Ohio State 71-67 inside the Breslin Center in East Lansing. Ohio State, who at one time was a legitimate contender for the conference crown, are now fighting for a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament and (potentially) a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
No. 9 Iowa (18-7, 11-7), on the other hand, had won four straight games before their meeting with Michigan this week. They were battered and bruised by the Wolverines, and were outscored 47-28 in the second half of that game. The Wolverines had the size to challenge Luka Garza down low, who was held to 16 points on 6-of-19 shooting. And because the Wolverines were able to stick freshman big man Hunter Dickinson on Garza, the rest of the Michigan defense was not compromised on the perimeter, challenging the likes of Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp and holding the Hawkeyes to just 31.6% shooting from beyond the arc. When all was said and done, the Wolverines had handed Iowa a 22-point loss, 79-57. It was the worst loss of the season for Iowa, and their lowest scoring output of their season as well.
At 85.2 points per game and a 40.1% from beyond the arc, this Iowa offense is the most explosive in the conference. KenPom has Iowa’s offense as the second-best in the nation based on efficiency, while Ohio State’s offense — despite scoring the fourth-most in the B1G— is the third-best offense in the nation. Throw in two teams who play below average defense and the stench of desperation coming from both locker rooms, and we were in store for an old-fashioned shootout in Columbus.
The two squads went punch for punch over the first few minutes, with Iowa holding a 10-8 lead when the first media timeout came at the 15:37 mark. Ohio State is undersized and Iowa knows it, so they force fed the rock to their All-American big man four times in the opening minutes. He scored seven of Iowa’s first 10, while the Buckeyes got four early points from Justice Sueing.
The teams mostly traded misses for the next four minutes, and even with Garza sitting the bench for a quick breather, the Buckeyes still were not able to score. Ohio State went a stretch of 4:25 without a made basket, and went into the under-12 timeout down 15-9. Neither offense was firing as they normally do, but Ohio State looked especially out of sync in the opening moments of this one.
The entire first half pretty much followed the rhythm of the opening few minutes, as the Buckeyes were not able to open things up on the offensive end. Whether the shot was contested or not, Ohio State couldn’t throw a beach ball into the ocean during the first stanza, going to the locker room at halftime trailing 42-28 — their lowest first-half scoring output of the year. Liddell had 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting in the first 20, but the rest of his team combined to score 15 points on 6-of-21 shooting.
The Hawkeyes got anything and everything they wanted offensively after the first five or six minutes. Garza led Iowa with 15 points in the first half, but Joe Wieskamp had 13 as well. Those two Hawkeyes alone scored as much as Ohio State during the first half.
Joe Wieskamp for the SLAM pic.twitter.com/yx5T4gEon5— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) February 28, 2021
After sleepwalking through the first half, the Buckeyes came out like they were shot out of a cannon in the second half, getting six points from Justice Sueing and four points from CJ Walker in the first two minutes, cutting Iowa’s lead to six points. Fran McCaffrey was forced to call timeout, with his lead cut by over half in just 128 seconds. By the time the first media timeout rolled around at 15:57, the Buckeyes had cut Iowa’s lead to 46-42.
While Ohio State was still still struggling on the defensive end, they really starting turning things up on the offensive end. Fueled by Justin Ahrens first made basket in the past three games, the Buckeyes were finally keeping pace with the Hawkeyes. They trailed 54-47 at the under-12 timeout, as their problem was no longer scoring the ball, it was stopping Iowa on the other end. I’m not great at math, but you can’t erase a deficit without getting at least a few defensive stops.
Ohio State is making a comeback pic.twitter.com/TNGx9GLI0A— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) February 28, 2021
The Buckeyes then hit one of their patented scoring droughts, going over five straight minutes without a made basket while simultaneously turning the rock over on three straight possessions. Those gifts helped Iowa extend their lead to 13 points, as the Hawkeyes led 64-51 at the under-8 timeout.
While Ohio State should be given credit for waking up in the second half and quickly shifting this game from a blowout to a competitive contest, their putrid defensive effort over the first 20 minutes set them back so far that they couldn’t overcome it in the second half. By the time the final buzzer sounded, Iowa had put the finishing touches on a 73-57 victory.
A heavy dose of Garza
It’s no secret that Ohio State is undersized, and Iowa decided to flex on the Buckeyes a little bit in the opening moments of the game. Garza took four shots before the first media timeout, scoring seven of the Hawkeyes’ first ten points. After scoring 16 points in the first game against Ohio State, he scored 15 in the first half alone today. Garza would finish with 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting, plus 11 rebounds and an assist.
Ice, ice, Buckeyes
Ohio State’s offense has over-achieved all season long, with a party of contributors rather than one star player. Coming into the game, OSU had the fourth-highest scoring offense in the Big Ten and the third-most efficient in the nation. However, the Buckeyes played what may have been their worst half of basketball of the season today in the opening 20 minutes, scoring 28 points on 28.7% shooting, including going 2-of-10 from downtown. There was a stretch where Ohio State made just one basket over a 7:31 stretch, as everyone not named E.J. Liddell was completely stagnant on the offensive end. The Buckeyes trailed by 14 at halftime, but it seemed like much more.
Defensive woes continue
After letting Michigan put up 92 on them last weekend, one would think that Ohio State’s defense would improve this week, at least marginally. Instead, they lost to a borderline-tournament team in Michigan State and then allowed Iowa to score 42 points on 51.6% shooting in the first half today. While the offense (or lack thereof) may be what people talk about after this game, Ohio State’s defensive miscues and size disadvantage are what really did them in during the opening frame.
Not so fast, my friend
Perhaps Chris Holtmann used a Men In Black flasher to erase his team’s memory, or maybe walk-on Harrison Hookfin gave the team the most inspirational speech of his life. But the Buckeyes came out in the second half looking like a completely different team. On the back of a dozen combined points from CJ Walker and Justice Sueing, the Buckeyes were able to cut Iowa’s lead to just four points by the first media timeout of the first half, 46-42. Ohio State cut the lead to just two points moments later, but were never able to tie it back up.
Not enough on the offensive glass
When the Buckeyes beat Iowa on February 4, they grabbed 11 offensive rebounds to help offset the massive size disadvantage they had on the defensive end. That gave the Buckeyes additional possessions that were absolutely crucial in helping them edge past the Hawkeyes that day. That did not happen this afternoon, as the Buckeyes pulled down just two offensive boards. Being outsized at several positions is tough enough, and that’s amplified when you’re not giving yourself any extra chances over the course of 40 minutes.
Which Duane will we get in the Tournament?
Duane Washington Jr. has proven to be one of the streakiest Buckeyes in recent memory, both on a game-by-game scale as well as within each game itself. He had a horrid month of January, but was playing phenomenal basketball during the month of February up until Thursday’s game vs Michigan State. After averaging 21 points per game against Indiana, Penn State, and Michigan, he scored 17 on a less-than efficient 7-of-16 shooting on Thursday night in Ohio State’s loss to the Spartans.
Washington Jr. struggled again today, scoring seven points on just 3-of-10 shooting while also committing four of Ohio State’s 13 turnovers. To win more than one game in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in eight years, the Buckeyes need Washington scoring the ball, but doing it efficiently — as he was prior to this week’s struggles.
Ohio State has five days off before their final game of the regular season, which will be Sunday, March 6 against No. 5 Illinois. The game tips off at 4:00 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN.