COLUMBUS, Ohio – In the wake of a 72-63 loss Tuesday at No. 14 Ohio State, Iowa players and coaches were frustrated by their performance but encouraged by their resolve.
Iowa trailed the Buckeyes by 24 points with 12:49 left in the game. The Hawkeyes (13-6, 2-4 Big Ten) then rallied possession-by-possession to cut its deficit to four points with 1 minute, 30 seconds left before ultimately losing.
“You’re playing a team of this caliber in this environment and to make a comeback it’s a positive in that sense,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “The disappointing thing for us is we’ve had trouble with this team’s defensive quickness the last two times they’ve beat us, and they’ve beat us pretty bad the last two times. They got up in us, and we couldn’t execute our offense.
“They took us out of what they wanted to run, whether it was a set play, or motion or any other kind of action. That’s what happened early. That’s what happened at the end of the half when we kind of let them get away from us, like the Michigan game. It was a couple-possession game and all the sudden we go down 12.”
Earlier this month at No. 2 Michigan, Iowa trailed by only three points with 1:19 left in the first half. The Wolverines then finished with a flourish, ending the half on an 8-0 run to take an 11-point halftime lead. Iowa fizzled defensively the rest of the game and lost by 28.
The first half at Ohio State ended in similar fashion. Iowa stayed within five points until OSU’s Deshaun Thomas drilled a 3-pointer with 1:08 left. Iowa had the ball down eight with the shot clock off, and Thomas blocked Aaron White at the basket. The Buckeyes gained possession and Evan Ravenel converted inside. He was fouled with 5.1 seconds left but missed the free throw. Lenzelle Smith Jr. rebounded and banged in a shot just before the buzzer to put Ohio State up 34-22.
“We dug a little bit too big of a hole,” Iowa guard Mike Gesell said. “We tried to battle back, but we just fell a little bit short. We’ve got to come out stronger in the first half and then we gave up a run at the first half similar to what we did at Michigan. We can’t let that happen if we want to win ball games against very good basketball clubs like these.”
But instead of buckling defensively – like at Michigan – Iowa buckled down in the second half. McCaffery inserted Zach McCabe at small forward and Eric May at the off-guard alongside Anthony Clemmons. Melsahn Basabe and Gabe Olaseni came off the bench to man the post, and Olaseni guarded the inbound pass in the press. The alignment helped produce a 20-4 run that included just two 3-pointers.
“If you would have told me we would have Zach, Mel, Gabe, Eric and Sappy (Clemmons) out there, then I would have said, ‘No way,’” McCaffery said. “That’s the team that clicked.”
After the run, the Hawkeyes kept up the defensive intensity, forcing turnovers on five of five possessions, including three by OSU point guard Aaron Craft. White sank one of two free throws to bring Iowa within four points.
“They were up 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.
“If Whitey makes that last free throw, it’s 63-60. I think it’s a big play in the game. Instead of a two-possession game, it’s a one-possession game. Who knows?”
In the final minute Ohio State did what Iowa could not do, however, and that’s finish. The Buckeyes scored on their last five possessions, while Iowa had a turnover and missed a pair of free throws.
Still, there were positives for Iowa, which rebounded from a 9-of-38 shooting start to make 13 of its final 24. Iowa out-rebounded Ohio State 40-34 and grabbed 22 offensive rebounds.
Even in defeat, Iowa players and coaches believe they are taking steps forward toward becoming a basketball contender.
“Our execution offensively in the second half was substantially better across the board,” McCaffery said.
“You can say we’ve grown just from that, from what happened to us at Michigan,” Iowa junior Devyn Marble said. “We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again so we continued to fight and tried to show a little character. But in the end, it’s still a loss.”
1. It might be time for a starting change in the post. Freshman Adam Woodbury is Iowa’s prized recruit and a top-tier talent, but he’s really struggling to make a positive difference, especially on offense. For the fourth straight game he notched only two points. He had three fouls, three turnovers and both of his misses were blocked by Ohio State’s Amir Williams, all in seven minutes.
Woodbury still needs to get playing time because his upside is immense. He’s 7-foot-1 and a decent athlete. But his confidence obviously is lagging and maybe he could affect the game better coming off the bench after the first or second media timeout.
2. Basabe taking over. Iowa junior forward Melsahn Basabe has recovered from two sprained ankles to provide toughness and leadership. Basabe, who stands 6-foot-7, played a season-high 27 minutes. He grabbed 10 rebounds, scored seven points and generally outperformed Ohio State’s interior players.
“They play big guys so their strength is being powerful, but I run better than them,” Basabe said. “I’m quick off the ground. Usually that’s my advantage against almost any team.”
Basabe has started 52 games in his career but has yet to open a game this season. He provides instant energy, offensive and rebounding when he enters the game.
“He was able to sustain energy,” McCaffery said. “He’s continuing to get better. He impacts our team. He gives a low-post threat. He gives us a traffic rebounder and a shot blocker.”
3. A little perspective. Iowa has six losses and five were to teams ranked in the top 20. Iowa’s four Big Ten losses were against teams ranked in the top 14. That’s the postseason equivalent of losing to four teams seeded at least No. 4 in a regional and a loss to another seeded fifth.
Iowa’s two road losses were at the No. 2 team (Michigan) and at Ohio State, which was a Final Four participant last year. The home losses to Indiana and Michigan State were by a combined seven points.
In its final 12 regular-season games, Iowa plays exactly three ranked opponents – Minnesota twice and at Indiana. Difficult road games at Wisconsin and Purdue await the Hawkeyes. But it’s way, way too early to shovel dirt on this team.