Buckeyes Narrowly Escape Furious Iowa Comeback
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thad Matta wasn’t ready to talk about his team’s mental toughness after Tuesday night’s 72-63 win over Iowa. Not after the way his Buckeyes squandered a 24-point second half lead that got as close as four points before Ohio State finally pulled away at the end.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“I’m not sure right now is the time for me answer that,” Matta said late Tuesday night.
He was still in a celebrating mood, however, despite the fact 15th-ranked Ohio State turned the ball over 17 teams and gave up 22 offensive rebounds to a resilient Iowa team led by Fran McCaffery.
“The first twenty minutes of the game we were as effective offensively and defensively –not rebounding – as we have been,” Matta said.
“Then some odd things happened. In the league we are in right now we take the wins and celebrate them, but we need to look at how to better ourselves.”
Junior Deshaun Thomas, coming off his remarkable 28-point performance at Michigan State, led the Buckeyes (14-4, 4-2 Big Ten) with 16 points. He scored 11 of them in the second half, despite playing the final eight minutes with a bandage over his right eye.
Photo by Jim Davidson
After scoring only five points in the first half, Thomas looked like he was finally starting to find that familiar rhythm in the second half when an errant elbow caught him just inside the temple area around his right eye.
The blood was dripping down his face and onto the court before trainers rushed over to escort him to the locker room with Ohio State leading Iowa 53-36. Thomas returned to the court minutes later, but Ohio State's lead had been cut to 14, at 54-40, and the Buckeyes struggled to rediscover their rhythm the rest of the way.
With four steals in the game, team leader Aaron Craft became the all-time leader at Ohio State with 208, but he also turned the ball over six times on Tuesday, including two costly ones in a row down the stretch.
“The steal record is great but that's not going to win us basketball games,” Craft said.
“It’s a great honor but we have much more to worry about than individual awards. Having six turnovers is going to lose us games.”
It wasn’t just Craft. The Buckeyes turned the ball over 14 times in the second half, and the gave up 11 offensive rebounds in each 20-minute segment on Tuesday. It was an ugly game, one where a combined 30 fouls were called in the second half, but Ohio State made the plays it had to make down the stretch.
Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. added 12 points each for Ohio State while Evan Ravenel scored 11 off the bench. Starting center Amir Williams blocked a career-high six shots, but finished with just two points and zero rebounds.
“Being able to block shots is something I need to work on,” Williams said.
“The fact that I had zero rebounds is unacceptable. I am better than having zero rebounds in a game so that will make us lose games. I have to try to get around seven rebounds a game.”
Even with Craft on the bench, Ohio State closed out the first half on a 15-6 run to make it a 12-point game at the break. Shannon Scott played well in relief, scoring four points and dishing out three assists, while LaQuinton Ross came off the bench to contribute with seven points and five rebounds.
Ohio State kept the momentum going early in the second half, as they came out a 19-7 run keyed by Thomas. They held a 53-29 lead with 12:48 to play, but the lead was down to 17 when Thomas left with the cut above his eye.
“They were (down) by 24 with a substantial amount of time left,” McCaffery said.
“A lot of times, teams don’t have the maturity or the patience to try to chip away; but that’s what we did.”
Iowa freshman Anthony Clemens drained a 3-pointer to make it an eight-point game with just under six minutes to play and White cut it to five with a jumper at the 2:33 mark. Ohio State’s lead would eventually disappear down to four, forcing Thad Matta to call timeout with 1:17 to play in the game.
“We had been pressuring them before but it was a little more effective with the big lineup. Once we got a couple steals, we got them a little bit sideways with their offense,” McCaffery added.
“By scrambling a little bit and pressing and trapping, there were a couple turnovers and a couple run-outs, and some easy baskets. That’s how you have to do it.”
Iowa (13-6, 2-4) was led by Ohio native Aaron White, who scored 13 points to go with seven rebounds. If White hits his second free throw at the end, it’s a one possession game. Instead, Craft hits a free throw and then Thomas makes a great defensive play on Iowa freshman Mike Gesell, who threw up an off-balance layup.
Thomas hit both free throws and the Buckeyes closed out the game on a 9-4 to pick up their 14th win of the season while improving to 4-2 in Big Ten play. Their next game is Saturday at Penn State (12 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
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