COLUMBUS, Ohio – For the second straight season, Iowa players streamed into the bowels of Value City Arena with something really big to celebrate.
The Hawkeyes started fast Tuesday afternoon and hung on for a 71-65 win over No. 20 Ohio State to open Big Ten Conference play in joyous fashion.
"We came into this game expecting to win," said Iowa point guard Mike Gesell, well aware that confidence questions had dogged this group in December. "And we played like it out there. You could see it in our confidence. Right away, we jumped on them."
And they didn't let Ohio State up.
The Iowa junior got his teammates fired up prior to the Hawkeyes' Big Ten opener at Value City Arena.
The Hawkeyes (10-4, 1-0 Big Ten) scored on their first eight possessions and 10 of their first 11, building a 12-point halftime lead over the Buckeyes (11-3, 0-1) in front of a sleepy weekday-afternoon crowd of 15,189.
A less-fluid second half followed and Iowa's lead was shaved to three points, 63-60, on star freshman D'Angelo Russell's 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 25 seconds remaining.
But if Iowa panicked, it didn't show. Josh Oglesby (eight points) stepped into the lane and delivered a clutch jumper when his team needed it most, and Jarrod Uthoff followed with a stone-cold-tough 3-pointer from the baseline with 2:19 to play to push the lead to 68-60.
If there were questions about Iowa's toughness — which were highlighted with well-publicized comments Dec. 22 from North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll — those were two defining answers.
"Toughness isn't pushing and shoving. Toughness is being able to play through the run. Being able to deal with the crowd," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said afterward. "Russell hits that 3, cuts it to 3, somebody's got to make a play. And Oglesby was phenomenal. And then we get a stop, and then Jarrod hits the 3 out of the corner.
"That's what real good teams do. You make plays then."
Uthoff was the ring leader for those plays. The junior forward from Cedar Rapids had one of his best games as a Hawkeye: 18 points, seven rebounds, five assists.
After Ohio State's Sam Thompson converted a 3-point play to make it 68-63, Uthoff stuck a 19-footer with a defender in his face — 70-63 Hawkeyes with 1:35 go.
For all practical purposes, that was the ballgame.
"It was one of those times I felt like taking a shot," Uthoff said afterward. "And I just took it."
He made it look easy. Beating Ohio State here isn't easy. The Buckeyes are 99-9 here since the 2009-10 season — with two of those losses coming to Iowa in the last 12 months. On Jan. 12, Iowa came in here and upended then-No. 3 Ohio State, 84-74 — its best win of the 2013-14 season.
Aaron White, a Strongsville, Ohio, native, found special gratification in the win, of course. He finished with 18 points and nine rebounds. He also played big — truly — when Iowa needed it most. Adam Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni each had four fouls with 7:51 to go, thrusting White into the "5" spot.
"For a stretch there, I played the 5 and we went zone. We tried to gang-rebound," White said. "Everyone helped us on the glass, which was big."
The Hawkeyes ended up with a 37-29 advantage in rebounds — and a 1-0 Big Ten record with Nebraska at home next on Monday.
"This league's incredibly tough to win on the road," White said. "To get one in your first game to get you rolling in the Big Ten season is great."
The Hawkeye forward talks confidence and his native Ohio after a 71-65 win in Columbus.