Hawkeyes put up little fight again on road, fall hard at No. 16 Ohio State
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The only good news for the Iowa men's basketball team Saturday is that it is down to its final two road games.
A long and draining season for the Hawkeyes picked up another lowlight with an 82-64 loss to Ohio State to the delight of a capacity crowd at Value City Arena that whooped with joy as their Buckeyes whipped up on their beleaguered visitors and took hold of first place in the Big Ten Conference.
The Hawkeyes have dropped their four most recent road games by a combined 72 points.
This one ended with a whimper after the No. 16 Buckeyes seized control early in the second half with a 14-0 run that seemed to take the fight out of the Hawkeyes.
It left Iowa coach Fran McCaffery and his players quietly offering the same words fans have heard throughout the winter.
"The same things that have been happening all year," said Iowa freshman Jack Nunge, who watched that dismal 14-0 stretch from the bench. "We get turnovers or missed shots and then they get the breakouts and easy layups and open 3s. We've just got to hustle back and have the next-play mentality."
Ohio State had five players score in double digits before coach Chris Holtmann emptied his bench.
Iowa was led by Nunge's career-high 18 points. Jordan Bohannon added 11 points. No other Hawkeye reached double figures.
McCaffery also emptied his bench — using all 12 of his healthy scholarship players — but that was more of an exercise in trying to find a competitive combination.
He never did.
"As much as anything, it was bad offense by us. Good defense by them. They were up into us," McCaffery said. "But I didn't think we moved the ball. I didn't think we executed."
Iowa made only 11 of 31 field goals (35.5 percent) in the second half but scored the game's final seven points to avoid the worst defeat of the season. The Hawkeyes are 1-8 on the road, the only win coming in overtime at Illinois after they erased a 20-point deficit.
The Hawkeyes (12-15, 3-11 Big Ten) trailed 42-32 after an uneven first half in which they allowed Ohio State (22-5, 13-1) to drain 6 of 10 3-pointers.
"We gave up way too many points in the first half," Bohannon lamented. "We just had help and then a guy got loose in the corner and they knocked a 3 that way. Or we just didn't help on the weak side and they get an easy layup on the dropdown pass."
Combined with Purdue's loss to Michigan State earlier Saturday, Ohio State took over sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. It's been a surprisingly magical season in Columbus, and the locals are finally starting to take notice. Saturday's crowd of 18,809 marked the first sellout here in four years.
But sophomore center Micah Potter, a native of Mentor, Ohio, said the Buckeyes don't want to start feeling good about themselves now. They are constantly talking about how overlooked they were in the preseason, when the media picked them to finish 11th in the 14-team league. Iowa was picked eighth.
The media has some explaining to do.
"We keep it in mind where we were picked in the preseason. A lot of the time coach will bring it up. Like today, he talked about how Iowa was ranked (three) spots ahead of us," Potter said after scoring 14 points. "That's always motivation for us. We know how much we've been doubted all year. We're trying to prove people wrong."
Ohio State was 7-11 in the league a year ago and has a new head coach. It hasn't mattered. Saturday's win was its 15th of the year by 10 or more points, including two over the Hawkeyes, both of which were more dominant than the final scores indicated.
The Buckeye starters outscored their Hawkeye counterparts 60-36. The home team was so efficient in the second half that it didn't commit a turnover until 1 minute and 16 seconds remained when little-used freshman Kyle Young drove into the lane and passed the ball to Andrew Dakich. Dakich was on the bench at the time. You can't blame Young for assuming he was just another open shooter.
The home crowd got a big laugh.
"You can't blame that on Kyle. You've got to tell Dakich to sit down," Ohio State center Kaleb Wesson joked.
There was no laughing on the Iowa side. The Hawkeyes matched their loss total from a season ago, when they finished 19-15, with at least five games to go.
"Losing is part of life. If it wasn't for losing we wouldn't be here at this point of our lives, playing for the school that we all wanted to," Bohannon said, turning philosophical. "But at the end of the day, there's another game on the horizon, so we've got to try to figure out what's going wrong. Obviously, 15 losses is way too many on the season."
Iowa next plays at Michigan on Wednesday. Its final road game is in Minnesota on Feb. 21.