For the second time this season Ohio State’s men’s basketball team has lost three games in a row. Following setbacks on the road to Nebraska and Northwestern last week, on Tuesday night the Buckeyes fell at home 87-75 to Illinois. With the loss to the Fighting Illini, Ohio State has lost six of their last seven games, with the only win during that span coming at home against Penn State. Along with their funk during the month of January, the Buckeyes have been atrocious on the road over the last year, losing their last 14 road games.
After a lackluster effort on Saturday at Northwestern, Ohio State showed a little more fight against a tough Illinois team on Tuesday evening. The improved effort wasn’t enough though, as the Buckeyes weren’t able to cut into a 41-34 halftime deficit in the second half. Most of the statistics in the game were pretty tight, Illinois just hit a couple more three-pointers, a few more free throws, and pulled down a couple more rebounds.
Leading Ohio State in scoring on Tuesday night was Jamison Battle, who finished with 21 points. Entering Tuesday’s contest, Battle had been in a recent slump, scoring just 32 total points over his last four games. The Minnesota transfer hit the 20-point mark for the fourth time this season, and the first time since he scored 22 points in the victory over Rutgers at the beginning of the month. Just behind Battle on Tuesday night in scoring was Roddy Gayle Jr., who netted 20 points. Evan Mahaffey was the only other Ohio State player to reach double figures in scoring, with his 13 points being his second-highest scoring total as a Buckeye.
One Buckeye who has been struggling lately has been Bruce Thornton. Over the last four games, the only contest where Thornton hit more than a third of his field goal attempts came in the loss to Nebraska where he was 5-9 from the field. After reaching double figures in scoring in 13 of the first 14 games of this season, Thornton has failed to score at least 10 points in three of the last seven games. With the season spiraling out of control, Ohio State needs more from Thornton, who is looked at as one of the leaders of the team.
Much like Ohio State, Iowa is playing some of their worst basketball of the season, having lost three of their last four games. The latest loss for the Hawkeyes came on Tuesday night to Indiana, falling to the Hoosiers 74-69 in Bloomington. Fran McCaffrey’s team at least showed some fight in the loss, rallying from a 17-point deficit in the first half, and a 12-point deficit in the second half. Iowa actually led 68-66 with 1:42 left in the game after a Payton Sandfort jumper before Indiana would go on to score the last eight points of the game.
Sandfort’s jumper late in the game to give Iowa a brief lead gave him a team-high 26 points. Sandfort’s 26-point outburst pushed his season total to five games with at least 20 points. The junior forward is tied with Ben Krikke for second in scoring, with both averaging 15 points per game. Sandfort has also been very active on the glass so far this season, leading the Hawkeyes with 6.9 rebounds per game.
This is the 169th meeting between the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes. Incredibly, the all-time series is knotted at 84. Last year the teams met three times, with Ohio State winning two of the three contests. The Buckeyes won in Columbus 93-77 in January, followed by Iowa winning 92-75 on their home court a little less than a month later. Ohio State won the rubber match at the Big Ten Tournament 73-69 in the second round. Even with the loss in Chicago, the Hawkeyes would still go on to the NCAA Tournament, losing to Auburn in the first round while the Buckeyes sat at home.
Leading Iowa in scoring this year is senior guard Tony Perkins, who is averaging 15.5 points per game. In the loss to Indiana, Perkins returned to his home state and finished with 22 points, notching the fourth straight game where he has scored at least 20 points. Along with his scoring prowess, Perkins has been very active in other areas on the court, averaging four rebounds per game, four assists per game, and nearly two steals per contest.
While Perkins, Sandfort, and Krikke are all capable of having monster games, the most intriguing player on Iowa’s roster is Owen Freeman. The freshman is capable of posting a double-double any time he takes the floor. So far this season Freeman has recorded three double-doubles, but there have been numerous games where he has fallen a rebound or two shy of adding to those numbers. Earlier this week Freeman was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the seventh time this season, tying Bryce McGowens of Nebraska for second-most in conference history. Freeman very quietly leads all Big Ten freshmen in points, rebounds, and blocks.
Ohio State has to be thrilled the calendar has turned to February. Even though the month has changed, the outlook for Chris Holtmann’s team hasn’t. The Buckeyes can’t win on the road, which severely hampers their NCAA Tournament hopes. With their terrible January, it is looking like the only chance for Ohio State to make the tournament is to win the Big Ten Tournament. Because of their failures so far in the conference, the Buckeyes are looking like they are going to be one of the lower seeds in next month’s conference tournament, so they aren’t doing themselves any favors.
The good news for the Buckeyes is Iowa has lost their last two games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The bad news for Ohio State is those losses came to Maryland and Purdue, two teams that are playing at a higher level than the Buckeyes are right now. Right now Ohio State just seems lost on the basketball court. Players like Bruce Thornton seem to have hit a wall, while others like Roddy Gayle Jr. have struggled with consistency of late. Then there have been some puzzling usage decisions from Holtmann when it comes to the bench. Freshman Devin Royal has given the team quality minutes, but the problem is he is averaging just over seven minutes per game despite producing in the few minutes he’s been given.
This Iowa squad isn’t quite as feared as they have been recently since they don’t have Luka Garza or the Murray brothers. That doesn’t mean the Hawkeyes aren’t dangerous. Every time out Iowa is a threat to score at least 80 points because of their ability to score inside and out. On the other side, the Buckeyes are having a real tough time keeping up with opponents who can’t score quite at the rate Iowa can. If Ohio State isn’t on their game early tonight, things could get ugly fast in Iowa City.
ESPN BPI: Iowa 71.8%
Time: 7 p.m. ET