Heading into Saturday’s game against Iowa riding a five-game losing streak, things were going about as poorly as they could possibly be going for Chris Holtmann’s team. To make things worse, senior guard Sean McNeil (9.9 PPG entering today’s game), was pulled from the starting lineup due to a “dental emergency” — he had emergency dental work done this week and did not practice for the last two days.
But hey, after losing five in a row, people pretty much expect you to lose — so the pressure is off, right?
Maybe no longer having the pressure of winning a Big Ten championship was the ticket, or maybe the Buckeyes are simply progressing closer to where we expected them to be a few weeks ago. Regardless, Ohio State (11-8, 3-5)was able pull out a rather impressive win over a hot and talented Iowa team (12-7, 4-4) at home, 93-77. Brice Sensabaugh led all scorers with 27 points in 26 minutes, but Isaac Likekele was the real star, flirting with a triple-double and ending with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists.
With McNeil coming off the bench, Ohio State went with three freshmen in their starting lineup — Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle, and Sensabaugh. Chris Holtmann also started Zed Key and the super-senior Likekele to round out the starting five — which means Justice Sueing also moved to the bench. He finished with 10 points, two rebounds, two assists, and a steal off the bench in 28 minutes.
The Fighting Frans started a five of Ahron Ulis, Tony Perkins, Connor McCaffery, Filip Rebraca, and Kris Murray.
The two teams began the afternoon with some sloppy play, combining for six turnovers over the first two minutes. Two of the turnovers came from Sensabaugh, but the star freshman also scored the Buckeyes’ first five points of the game. At the first media timeout roughly four minutes in, Iowa clung to an early 8-5 lead. Murray had a quick five points as well.
However, Ohio State turned up the defense over the next several minutes, forcing the Hawkeyes into some uncomfortable spots as well as blocking three shots — courtesy of Felix Okpara. By the under-eight timeout, the Buckeyes had turned an early deficit into a six-point lead, 28-22 It was especially noteworthy because most of Ohio State’s damage was done by Likekele and McNeil, while their leading scorer — Sensabaugh — was on the bench.
Ohio State held it together well enough to take a 37-35 lead into the halftime break, and Sensabaugh led them in the first half with a clean dozen points — but also four turnovers. Murray had nine points and five rebounds in the first half for Iowa, but the Buckeyes did a fine job walling him off and preventing Murray from taking many high-percentage looks.
The Buckeyes, powered by an unlikely hero in Likekele, went on a 9-0 run early in the second half to open up a 49-39 lead by the first media timeout, four minutes into the second half. Likekele had four more points right away, setting a season-high with over 16 minutes to go in the game. Sensabaugh also had a quick six points to add to the day’s total.
Ohio State continued to get out in transition and push the Hawkeyes, but despite this, Iowa refused to go away. Even with Likekele having by far his best game as a Buckeye, the Hawkeyes silenced every Ohio State run with a bucket — usually it was Murray, who finished the day with 22 points on 9-19 shooting. By the under-eight media timeout Ohio State still held a 71-61 lead.
But credit to the Buckeyes, as they withstood every Hawkeye run and made enough defensive stops to build a lead large enough to hang on and win the game. Gayle and Likekele, who were inserted into the lineup just today, turned out to be the big difference makers, combining for 27 points on 11-19 shooting, plus 12 rebounds.
If you didn’t watch Ohio State’s bounce-back win today at the Schott, here are a few of the key moments that led to the Buckeyes getting back in the win column for the first time in 20 days:
The Hawkeyes have been pretty good at limiting turnovers this season, averaging just 10 giveaways per game. But this afternoon the two teams each turned the ball over on both of their first two possessions. The start of the game went something like this:
- Bad pass turnover by Thornton, stolen by Perkins
- Uhlis turnover, stolen by Sensabaugh
- Out of control dribble turnover by Sensabaugh
- Murray travel below the basket
Sensabaugh finally scored a long jumper 1:54 into the game to open the scoring, but the two teams were incredibly sloppy in the opening minutes. Ohio State finished with 11 turnovers, and Iowa had 14.
If you take it, you better make it
Likekele entered today’s game as a 25.7% three-point shooter, and had not hit one yet as a Buckeye. With Ohio State trailing 13-10 early in the first half, Likekele had a pass contested by Iowa, but he was able to run down the loose ball in the far right corner. Nobody chased him there, and Likekele took the risk and drained the triple from the corner to tie things up, 13-13 with 12:19 left in the first half.
McNeil’s back-to-back threes
Having just taken their first lead in quite some time moments ago, Tanner Holden stole the ball from Iowa’s Josh Dix and found McNeil in transition for an easy three to give Ohio State a 20-15 lead. On the next Ohio State possession, Riley Mulvey blocked Sueing’s layup, but he then collected the miss and kicked it back to McNeil up top, who buried another three to make it 23-15 Buckeyes with 10:25 left in the first half.
McNeil finished with 10 points on 4-5 shooting over 24 minutes, including going 2-2 from three-point land.
Iowa ends the half on a modest 9-4 run to keep things tight
The Hawkeyes trailed 33-26 with just over six minutes remaining in the half, and the Buckeyes were starting to see some shots go down. However, the fighting Frans went on a 9-4 run to end the half, making it a one-possession game at the break. Peyton Sandford had a big three, and Rebraca was able to work Okpara for two late fouls below the basket — knocking down all four free throws.
Rebraca finished with 15 points and three rebounds over 31 minutes. He also had four turnovers.
Likekele sets his season high in scoring... in 24 minutes
Likekele has not been a featured part of the offense this season, and for good reason. Before today’s game, he was averaging three points per game and shooting just 35% overall. However, Likekele did a god job getting repeatedly getting downhill in Ohio State’s transition offense, and it resulted in him setting his season-high in points by early in the second half. His layup 3:14 into the second half were his 10th and 11th points of the day, and also gave his team a 46-39 lead.
Likekele finished with a season-high 18 points, and also added team-highs in rebounds and assists with 10 and seven, respectively.
Gayle making an impact, too
Much like Likekele, Gayle hadn’t had a solid offensive showing since the St. Francis game nearly two months ago. However, he was efficient this afternoon and gave Ohio State a boost, scoring nine points off the bench. After Ohio State’s lead had shrunk back to single-digits with just over 12 minutes to go, Gayle dropped in a finger-roll layup over the head of Sandfort to give Ohio State a 60-50 lead. Gayle turned around and let Sandfort hear it, too, as the freshman guard from New York was getting into an offensive rhythm for the first time in quite some time.
Roddy Gayle, dunk contest champion
Many people forget that Gayle won the “Buckeyes on the Blacktop” dunk contest in the preseason, jamming down violent dunk after violent dunk in the shadow of Ohio Stadium in front of hundreds of students.
He harkened back to the dunk contest with 7:58 remaining in the game, slamming down a thunderous double-clutch dunk after sprinting the baseline to give the Buckeyes a 71-61 lead. It was the dunk of the year (for this team) without question, and it answered Ulis’ pair of free throws from just a moment earlier.
Gayle finished with nine points on 4-7 shooting over 17 minutes.
Ohio State (11-8, 3-5) only has two days off before their next game, which is a road game at Illinois (13-6, 4-4) Tuesday night. The two teams have yet to play this season, but the Fighting Illini are fresh off an 80-65 beating at the hands of Indiana late last week. Brad Underwood’s squad will almost certainly be focused and angry after being embarrassed at home their last time out.
KemPom currently has Illinois pegged as the No. 27 team in the nation, and the No. 29 overall defense.
Ohio State’s road matchup with Illinois will tip off at 7:00 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN — Ohio State’s seventh ESPN game of the season.