The Iowa freshman is adamant: ‘None of these dudes are losers.’ Mark Emmert/HawkCentral
IOWA CITY, Ia. — There was a hitch in Luka Garza's voice when he spoke with reporters after yet another Iowa loss Thursday.
The freshman center was asked if he was growing tired of answering the same questions with each discouraging performance by the Hawkeye men's basketball team.
"It's the worst feeling walking out of a game knowing we just lost. Answering these questions is not as bad as losing that game, seeing another loss in the loss column," Garza said after Iowa fell 92-81 to Ohio State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena to remain winless in the Big Ten Conference. "We hate this, and I hate this. It makes me sick every game. That feeling is something none of these people want and somehow we're going to make this work."
Iowa extended its stay in the basement of the Big Ten by falling behind early against the Buckeyes and mounting only one short-lived challenge early in the second half.
The defense was leaky again. The offense went into periods of hibernation again. The visiting team left happy while the home fans went home grumbling again.
The Hawkeyes (9-8, 0-4 Big Ten) are becoming the team that conference opponents can't wait to toy with, and now head on the road for three consecutive games that will test their resolve.
Keita Bates-Diop led Ohio State (12-4, 3-0) with 27 points. The other four starters also reached double digits.
"We can't let Diop come in here and get 27 like that. We can't let five or six guys get in double digits. It's just pride at a certain level," Garza said.
"We have zones where we were right there and we were pushing it and we cut it down to five. At that point, that's where we need to lock in the most and I think we failed to do that. A lot of guys in here, we're not just getting stepped over and we're not going to let that happen."
The Buckeyes took control with an early 16-1 run. The lead was 46-32 at halftime.
Iowa's best flurry came at the outset of the second half, when the deficit shrank to 48-43. Ohio State promptly scored the next 10 points.
It's been that kind of year for Iowa.
"Our guys just stepped up," Chris Holtmann said after becoming the first Ohio State coach to win his first three Big Ten games. "We knew that they had the potential to make another run. In fact, we talked about that. They are an explosive team. The pace they play with comes at you in waves."
Chris Holtmann says he told his team Iowa ‘comes at you in waves’ Mark Emmert/HawkCentral
It did at times. But not long enough.
Tyler Cook led four Iowa players in double-figure scoring with 21 points. Jordan Bohannon and Garza added 15 each and Nicholas Baer chipped in 10.
All it did was make the final margin look a little more presentable. The game itself was not. The Hawkeyes trailed for 35 minutes and 8 seconds, much of the time by double digits.
It was the first time this season Iowa lost a game when scoring more than 80 points.
Ohio State shot 53 percent from the field, making the Hawkeyes pay for repeated soft defensive efforts. The Buckeyes owned a 42-26 advantage in points in the paint.
"Our zone was decent at times. We played a little bit of 3-2, which was horrendous; 2-3 was better," said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, whose team is 0-4 in league play for the first time since his first season, 2010-11. "They have a lot of guys who can make plays off the dribble and play in and out and they can put five really good guys out there. That's a hard thing to do, play zone against a team like that."
Iowa next plays at Maryland at 7 p.m. Sunday and then has trips to Illinois (Jan. 11) and Rutgers (Jan. 17).
Those latter two squads are also 0-3 in Big Ten play, so those games should at least determine which is the worst team in the league.
It's a far cry from where the Hawkeyes expected to be a year after finishing 10-8 in the Big Ten despite a lineup filled with freshmen. The disappointment was clearly evident in Garza's voice as his rookie year has devolved into a series of uphill climbs.
"We can't keep letting that momentum get out of our hands. It's not going to keep happening. I know that for sure," he said. "I know these guys in the locker room. I've been around them a while. None of these dudes are losers or anything like that.
"We're a team that plays hard and we can do this."