Why Hawkeye fans can make huge impact vs. Ohio State

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Iowa fans, your energy level at Carver-Hawkeye Arena matters.

Aaron White and his Hawkeye basketball teammates know they need to lock in on the game plan whether things are going well or not. But when there's fan tension in home games, chances are the players are going to feel it, too.

The correlation was hard to miss in high-profile home games against Iowa State and Michigan State. Both games saw second-half Hawkeye lapses … and double-digit losses.

"In a couple of those games, we've had a tendency to rely on the crowd," White said. "When we make a run and they get into it, we're playing really well. When they make a couple shots and it's kind of not as loud in here, we don't play quite as sound. Which, you can't really do that."

Iowa roared to a 39-28 halftime lead against the Spartans, and the crowd matched and even fueled the players' intensity. Michigan State overwhelmed Iowa and took away the crowd with a second-half blitz of eight 3-pointers without a miss.

"It did happen," White said of the crowd's downshift. "You just can't let that affect you, I guess. You have to play through everything."

Fast forward to Saturday's 1 p.m. game against Ohio State, which is an announced sellout of 15,400. It has the makings of a fun atmosphere. Fans are encouraged to wear gold clothing. Iowa players will wear gold jerseys for the first time this year. The Hawkeyes are 11-4 under fifth-year coach Fran McCaffery when wearing gold.

The players know that Carver-Hawkeye will be salivating for their first big home win of the season to celebrate. Iowa's signature wins this year have come on the road — at North Carolina, in Columbus against these same Buckeyes, and Tuesday's thrilling win at Minnesota. They'd love to reward the home fans Saturday.

"Every home game, whether we're playing a ranked team, we're kind of expected to win," junior point guard Mike Gesell said. "I feel like that's what our fan base expects.

"It's tremendous, all the support that they've shown throughout the years."

Though both teams Saturday are just outside the Associated Press Top 25, there's already a lot on the line. Iowa (12-5, 3-1 in the Big Ten) is tied for first in the league in the loss column. And a season sweep against the Buckeyes (14-4, 3-2) would mean a lot come March.

Unfortunately, Iowa had to junk the game plan that resulted in a 71-65 win in Columbus on Dec. 30. Ohio State was playing exclusively a 2-3 zone defense then. Now the Buckeyes are playing exclusively man-to-man.

"We didn't even really watch a lot of film from our first game, because they're playing totally different now," Gesell said. "I've never really seen anything like that."

So, as Iowa adjusts to a changed Ohio State outfit and hopes to avoid another second-half rut, the home crowd could make a difference.

"I remember the Purdue game my first year (an 11-20 season). They were ranked sixth, and we beat them, and the crowd was a big part of that," McCaffery said. "Every home win that we've had, they've been a big part of it in terms of the energy level in the building. And hopefully it'll be the same way on Saturday."