Iowa delivers stirring performance in crucial win at No. 5 Ohio State

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In undeniably their most important game of the season, the Iowa Hawkeyes leaned heavily on their two best players.

This was a team effort, to be sure, but every time the Hawkeyes needed a bucket in Value City Arena, Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp were there.

Garza, the all-American center and Wooden Award favorite, poured in 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds. Wieskamp, the Jerry West Award finalist, rained in five clutch 3-pointers and finished with 19 points. Together, they led a stirring 73-57 win against fifth-ranked Ohio State — a major statement in a significant game in the Big Ten Conference standings.

The 12th-ranked Hawkeyes improved to 18-7 overall, 12-6 in Big Ten play after what Jordan Bohannon called their first "signature" win of the season.

“To beat a team like that on their home floor, it’s impressive for us," Garza said. "We need to just keep controlling things we can control, like our effort.”

Joe Wieskamp soars for a first-half dunk in Columbus. The Hawkeyes led, 42-28, at the break.

Ohio State showed why it’s been projected as a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed before this week. The Buckeyes roared out of the halftime locker room to cut a 42-28 deficit to 44-42 — scoring 14 points on six rapid-fire possessions.

Garza quieted things down, scoring two big ones off a feed from Bohannon. Then, out of a timeout, Wieskamp buried a 3-pointer from the left wing — just in front of Iowa’s bench — for a 49-42 lead. A subsequent Garza bucket gave Iowa a nine-point lead and seemed to restore its authority in this game that was apparent from the early going.

“There was no panic. They were encouraging each other. Confident, coming out of timeouts," McCaffery said. " And I think we saw the result.”

What may have been most impressive about this win, which was the third on the road for a McCaffery Iowa team and the first since January 2016, was that the Hawkeyes never withered under the pressure. In fact, they were the ones administering the pressure. The Hawkeyes forced 13 turnovers while committing just five of their own, quite a turnaround from Thursday's 22-point loss at Michigan in which they had just four assists. Iowa had 19 assists Sunday on 29 baskets while shooting 46.8%.

Maybe the biggest shot of the game was Wieskamp's fifth and final 3, again in front of Iowa's bench, to 64-51 with 7:59 to go. That seemed to take the wind out of Ohio State, and only embolden the Hawkeyes.

“I was just trying to shoot the ball with confidence," said Wieskamp, a nearly 50% 3-point shooter who had been 2-for-10 from deep in Iowa's previous two games. "I know they made a good run to start the second half, but we did a really good job of just extending it from that point. I just tried to make shots in critical points and do whatever I could to help our team get the win."

The Buckeyes scored 14 points in the first 3:11 of the second half; they scored 15 in the last 16:49. What a statement by the Hawkeyes.

With a feed to a fellow Iowan, Bohannon set Iowa’s all-time assists record.

The play, drawn up out of a timeout, was perfectly executed and fitting of the record. Bohannon dribbled to his right, and Muscatine's Wieskamp faked a back-door cut and circled back around a screen from Garza to spot up on the left wing. Bohannon found him cleanly, and Wieskamp buried the trey for a 37-25 lead.

That marked the 613th assist of Bohannon’s Hawkeye career, allowing the fifth-year senior from Marion to move past Jeff Horner for No. 1 all-time at Iowa. The record was a testament to Bohannon's durability as much as anything. He was playing in his 137th game; Horner played in 123. Bohannon has been cranking out assists since his freshman season of 2016-17, when he had 175 of them.

Perhaps fittingly, Bohannon provided an exclamation point in this game. He scored Iowa's final five points, including a put-away 3 with 2:21 left to make it 71-57. For the game, he finished with eight points, four rebounds and five assists. 

“For some reason I thought I was going to get it at a point where we were going to win a big game, and that was able to be at Ohio State — a place I haven’t won yet," Bohannon said afterward, "and a team that’s predicted to be a top seed.

“It’s been pretty surreal just looking back. I’m truly blessed for the position I’ve been put in.”

Welcome back, Joe Toussaint.

The sophomore point guard had become a bit player of McCaffery’s rotation of late, and Sunday he wound up being one of the early beneficiaries of Jack Nunge’s season-ending absence.

Toussaint entered with 11 minutes, 50 seconds remaining in the first half with Iowa owning a 15-9 lead. By the time he left 7:23 later, the Hawkeyes had roared to a 32-20 advantage. That 7:23 was more than he had played in six of Iowa’s previous seven games, and he would get another six minutes in the second half.

Sunday, he showed under-control explosion that frankly embarrassed Ohio State’s defense at times. The score at a stagnant 15-11 and Iowa off to a 6-for-19 shooting start, Toussaint found Garza for 3 and then best buddy Patrick McCaffery on a nifty feed for two to quickly make it 20-11.

Later, Toussaint penetrated the lane to scramble Ohio State’s defense. He calmly turned and kicked a feed to the top of the key, where Wieskamp was ready to catch, aim and convert a 3-pointer for a 30-18 lead. To finish his first-half work, Toussaint’s blow-by layin lifted Iowa to a 32-20 advantage before ceding the point-guard spot back to Iowa’s all-time assists leader.

Toussaint added another three assists in the second half for seven total in his 13:36 of court time. He was a difference-maker.

“I was really impressed with him. He played with great pace," McCaffery said. "And when he does, he impacts the game the way he did today.”

Those are exactly the type of minutes Iowa needs from Toussaint going forward as it plays a little smaller with an eight-man rotation, minus Nunge.

Sunday’s win gives the Hawkeyes inside position on earning a top-four (and possibly top-three) conference-tournament seed.

Iowa is now 12-6 in conference play, a half game better than Ohio State (12-7, and the Buckeyes play home against second-place Illinois to finish — a difficult game, with or without Ayo Dosunmu) and Purdue (11-6). If the Hawkeyes win their final two games — home Thursday vs. Nebraska (8 p.m., BTN), home Sunday vs. Wisconsin (11:30 a.m., Fox), they’ll earn the No. 3 seed at the March 10-14 league tournament in Indianapolis.

But, even one hiccup next week could mean losing that status as a double-bye team. If Iowa goes 1-1 against that schedule and Purdue wins out (in home games vs. Wisconsin and Indiana) and Ohio State beats Illinois, the Hawkeyes would slide to the No. 5 seed.

Iowa hasn’t held a top-four Big Ten seed since 2006. Yes, Iowa has twice tied for third in the Big Ten standings under McCaffery but in both years (2015 and 2016) it lost a three-way tiebreaker and wound up as the No. 5 seed. Given Iowa’s injury situation, a double bye at Lucas Oil Stadium would be significant. That would allow CJ Fredrick four off days between next Sunday’s finale vs. Wisconsin and the Big Ten opener. A little less wear and tear would be good entering the NCAA Tournament, too.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.