Two key stretches of play explain why Iowa basketball slipped late to Ohio State

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa and Ohio State each made 14 3-pointers Thursday, but there were two stretches of play in the second half that help explain why it was the Buckeyes who sprinted to the locker room after an 89-85 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The Hawkeyes built their biggest lead at 61-50 with 14 minutes and 29 seconds remaining, but then missed their next three attempts from the arc. Worse, they failed to rebound any of those. Ohio State quickly cut the deficit to 63-62 and ensured that the outcome wouldn’t be decided until the final minutes.

It was the Buckeyes’ 3-point shooting that swung the game their way in those waning minutes. Leading 79-78 with 3:55 left, Ohio State drained a trio of long-range shots, each one barely contested, that deflated the Hawkeyes and pushed the lead to 88-81. Iowa compounded that problem by going 3:41 without a field goal.

That means the No. 7 Buckeyes (15-4, 9-4 Big Ten Conference) are riding a four-game winning streak. The No. 8 Hawkeyes (13-5, 7-4) have lost three of their past four games. It was a battle of top-10 teams that resulted in a big swing in the league standings as the second half of the season gets under way.

Iowa senior guard Jordan Bohannon had no doubt about which stretch of play was the most decisive.

“The game was lost when we lost that 11-point lead. They made a run on us and we weren’t able to respond,” he said after producing 18 points and six assists.

More:Leistikow: Iowa's Jordan Bohannon has always wanted to prove he belongs

Added teammate Jack Nunge: “They stuck with their game plan and, during that little stretch, they got more stops on us and they were knocking down those open shots. We can’t get casual on defense when we take a lead. That’s where we’ve got to bury them.”

The late flurry of 3-pointers from Ohio State were provided by Justin Ahrens, Kyle Young and Ahrens again. Ahrens has burned Iowa in the past, so he was definitely a focus of the scouting report. He missed his first five attempts from long range, but got loose late and made the Hawkeyes pay.

Ohio State's Justice Sueing rises up for one of the 14 3-pointers the Buckeyes made Thursday, this one over Iowa's Keegan Murray. The Hawkeyes let an 11-point lead slip away in an 89-85 loss at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“We basically told our guys to be above the 3-point line and they were, and they hit them anyway,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “You can always talk about what we didn’t do, what we should have done. But at some point you’ve got to give credit to those guys who made them.”

While the Buckeyes were having success from 3-point range, Iowa missed its next three shots and committed a turnover, with only five free throws to show for that 3:41 stretch. Finally, Nunge drove for a layup with 37 seconds left. But it was too late.

“They were a really physical team, so they kind of took us out of our offense. We got a little bit stagnant there toward the end,” Nunge said. “We’ve got to move the ball better. We’ve got to screen. We’ve got to run our motion better.”

Ohio State stretches Iowa's zone defense, with 3-pointers and rebounds

The 3-point shooting totals weren’t the only statistic that was a dead heat. Each team had 20 assists and six turnovers. Each team also had 11 offensive rebounds. But, within that figure, there was a stark difference, one that the Hawkeyes need to work on because upcoming opponents will notice it as well.

Buckeye shooters often set up 25 feet from the basket as a way to stretch Iowa’s zone defense, leaving large gaps in which their teammates could operate. The Hawkeyes not only struggled to get out far enough to contest those deep 3s, they also had difficulty rebounding the ones that were off-target. All 11 of Ohio State’s offensive rebounds came on missed 3-pointers (Iowa, in contrast, only retrieved six of its 18 missed 3s).

In the second half, Ohio State made 8 of its 17 3-pointers, but also scored eight points off of the nine misses, meaning 32 of its 47 points in the final 20 minutes came on those sequences. The Hawkeyes must be able either to force more misses, or to ensure that the shots that do carom off the rim wind up in their hands. They did neither well in this game, and paid heavily.

“They really stretched us out mentally when we were in that 2-3 (zone),” Nunge said. “Even if they take a step back further, we’ve got to close out and get in their space and take the rhythm away from them.”

It was the first game this season in which Iowa failed to block a single shot, another example of how much space the Buckeyes had to operate.

“Great defenses communicate, and I think our communication is lacking on that end of the floor,” Bohannon said.

Iowa center Luka Garza was often faced with three Ohio State defenders when he went to the basket Thursday. Here, it's E.J. Liddell (32), CJ Walker (13) and Kyle Young (25) walling Garza off. The nation's leading scorer had only five of his 16 points after halftime as the Hawkeyes fell 89-85.

Garza slowed in second half by 'physical' Buckeye defense

Iowa all-American center Luka Garza was limited to 16 points, the fewest in a Big Ten game this season. He entered averaging a national-best 26.4.

Profile:Iowa's Luka Garza is an unlikely college basketball star with the help of grueling workouts

But it was in the second half when the Buckeyes really put the clamps on Garza. He scored only five points, on 2 of 8 shooting, in the final 20 minutes. He also didn’t get to the free-throw line in the second half, after going 3-for-6 in the opening 20 minutes.

“They were pretty physical with him,” McCaffery said when asked about the defense on his big man in the second half.

They certainly were. The Ohio State game plan was to let anyone other than Garza beat them. Iowa came up four points short this time, but will get another crack at the Buckeyes Feb. 28 in Columbus, Ohio 

Garza did have a career-high five assists, with no turnovers. He didn’t force things, or become frustrated. He simply tried to find other ways to help his team win.

Iowa post player Jack Nunge made a career-high four 3-pointers against Ohio State on Thursday. This one came over a late-arriving Seth Towns. Nunge has made 6 of his last 9 3-point attempts in two games this week, totaling 30 points.

Nunge showing in games what Hawkeyes have witnessed in practice

Joe Wieskamp had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Iowa, nine of them on the defensive end. He was confident and in control, a strong bounceback game after being benched for much of Tuesday’s win over Michigan State.

Wieskamp and Bohannon each made 4 of 8 3-pointers.

Nunge was slightly better, in one of his strongest performances. The 6-foot-11 post player stepped outside to connect on 4 of 7 3-pointers, a personal best. He tied his career high with 18 points and added six rebounds in 23 minutes.

More:Fran McCaffery draws on a deep pool of forwards off his bench for No. 4 Hawkeyes

This came on the heels of a 12-point effort against the Spartans, in which Nunge made both of his 3-point attempts. He had been 7 of 29 from that distance entering that game.

McCaffery and Iowa’s players have long raved about how skilled Nunge is during practice sessions. Garza predicted this week that fans would soon see the evidence for themselves as Nunge works his way back from one redshirt year of his choosing and another forced on him when he tore an ACL.

“Jack Nunge is doing what I think he expected of himself and we thought he would do when he got here, and it’s fun to see,” McCaffery said. “And the key thing about it is he’s just going to keep getting better.”

Wieskamp is among those happy to see Nunge earn an expanded role, especially with shooting guard CJ Fredrick hampered by a lower-leg injury.

“Everyone knows that Jack’s a great shooter. He kills jumpshots in practice,” Wieskamp said. “I think he’s finally starting to get his groove and his rhythm back out there on the floor.”

Iowa next plays at Indiana at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.