Things did not go as planned Saturday afternoon when the No. 18 Ohio State Buckeyes took the court in Value City Arena to face the Iowa Hawkeyes. After winning 11-straight at home since the start of this season, the Buckeyes fell to Keegan Murray et al 75-62 in a game that was more evenly matched than the final score might suggest. Now, Ohio State faces the daunting task of turning around just two days later and facing an Indiana team that’s desperate for a win after falling for four-straight losses.
The loss to Iowa definitely hurts the Buckeyes’ prospects for a regular season conference title down the stretch of Big Ten play, but Ohio State is certainly not out of contention. The Buckeyes are 2.5 games behind Purdue and a half game back from Wisconsin and Illinois. Coincidentally, they’re knotted up in the standings with (wait for it…) Rutgers. Overall, Ohio State is 16-7 on the season and 9-5 in conference play.
Saturday’s defeat also put a damper on the glimmer of momentum Ohio State found with a road win against Michigan and a thorough dismantling of Minnesota last week. However, problems that had been masked by impressive wins — like low scoring and turnovers — reared their ugly heads in ways that Iowa was able to capitalize on to secure the victory.
While freshman guard Malaki Branham relieved junior forward E.J. Liddell of leading scorer duties for a day, pouring in 22 points to Liddell’s 15, the Buckeyes failed to score more than 70 points for the fourth-straight game. It also didn’t help that Ohio State was facing the Big Ten’s best offense in Iowa.
There was also the fact the Buckeyes were just 18% — yes, 2-for-11 — from three-point range on the afternoon. Oh, and that they were 67% from the line. Iowa also outrebounded Ohio State 40-31, with the Hawkeyes hauling in 20 offensive rebounds. Not good.
Indiana, meanwhile, is sitting at 16-9 on the season, with a 7-8 record in conference play. In his first season as head coach, Indiana’s Mike Woodson is struggling to close out a challenging, lengthy conference season after what had been a promising start. As mentioned, the Hoosiers are losers of four-straight against No. 15 Illinois, Northwestern, No. 17 Michigan State and No. 15 Wisconsin, with the most recent loss coming at home in Assembly Hall last week.
With both teams coming off tough losses, Ohio State has a lot to gain from a win tonight in the final segment of the Buckeyes’ three-game homestand.
It seemed like Indiana’s nightmare skid might finally end against the Badgers last week, but the Hoosiers came away with a 74-69 heartbreaker of a final score. Overall, Indiana shot 41% from the field and 28% from range, had 14 assists to just eight for Wisconsin, and 12 turnovers to the Badgers’ 13. They were outrebounded by a 36-34 margin, but on paper, things looked pretty evenly matched. The difference, of course, was Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis.
Indiana had led 66-61 with just under four minutes left in the game, but the Hoosiers couldn’t stop Davis, nor could they score against the Badgers’ defense down the stretch (Indiana would miss nine of their last 10 shots from the field).
Sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis led Indiana in scoring with 30 points and eight rebounds on the night. Junior forward Race Thompson was the only other Hoosier in double figures with 13 points. Indiana had just 10 points off the bench.
The Buckeyes fell to Indiana in Bloomington earlier this season. In that matchup, Ohio State dropped a 67-51 decision in a painfully anemic offensive performance. Hindered by a stifling Indiana defense, the Buckeyes shot just 31% from the field, got outrebounded 41-33 (Indiana had more than twice as many offensive rebounds as Ohio State) and 15 turnovers to Indiana’s nine. Worse, a third of Ohio State’s turnovers came in the closing minutes of the second half as the Buckeyes failed to overcome what was at one point just a four-point deficit.
Branham led the Buckeyes in scoring with 13 points, followed by Liddell’s 11. No other Ohio State players scored in double figures. Jackson-Davis led the Hoosiers with 27 points on 11-of-17 shooting. He also had an even dozen rebounds. On the season, Jackson-Davis leads the Hoosiers in scoring with 18 points per game. He’s shooting 58% from the field on the year as well, which is good for third in the Big Ten.
Ohio State has emerged in February as the stronger team, but the fact remains the Buckeyes matched up poorly with the Hoosiers already once this season, and the issues that plagued that game, including turnovers and trouble scoring, remained problems in Ohio State’s most recent loss to Iowa.
The Buckeyes’ relative scoring drought is reason for alarm, as Ohio State’s lowest point total of the season came in the January loss to Indiana. Ohio State will need to find offense outside of Liddell. It’s also challenging that Indiana is a strong defensive team, holding opponents to just 38% from the field and 64 points per game. Indiana is also second in the Big Ten in blocked shots per game with 5.4, anchored by the best shot blocker in the conference in Jackson-Davis.
One area of particular concern is three point shooting, which is something both teams have struggled with at various points this season. While Ohio State is 38% from range on the season, as mentioned previously, the Buckeyes struggled against Iowa. Indiana, meanwhile, is shooting under 34% from beyond the arc, including 28% against Wisconsin.
There’s also the fact that Indiana’s had a lot more rest this past week as the Hoosiers prepare to face Ohio State (thanks a lot, COVID). In fact, they haven’t played since last Tuesday. With the Buckeyes having to accommodate an adjusted schedule down the stretch to fit in more of their delayed games, it means the home team will have had just two days’ rest since facing Iowa.
Finally, Value City Arena is no longer the impenetrable fortress we thought it was after the Buckeyes’ first home loss of the season Saturday. Ohio State must capitalize at home tonight before the Buckeyes head on the road for the next two matchups.
March is rapidly approaching, and seeding for the NCAA Tournament is top of mind. The Buckeyes would seem to be locks for the Big Dance (pending an absolute collapse to conclude the regular season), but there’s a lot to be gained from improved seeding. Bottom line: Ohio State can’t afford a loss to a team closer to the bubble like Indiana.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 76%
Time: 7 p.m. ET