After its five-point halftime lead quickly evaporated in the beginning of the second half, the Ohio State men’s basketball team desperately tried to hang on as eighth-ranked Iowa slowly gained control.
Then, with about four minutes left in the game, it all changed.
Redshirt sophomore guard Kam Williams sank a jumper, trimming Iowa’s lead to four.
From there, the Buckeyes rattled off a 10-2 run, which included two clutch 3-pointers, the first by junior forward Marc Loving. The second came from Williams in the corner after a cross-court feed from JaQuan Lyle to give OSU a 66-62 lead.
Iowa trimmed it to a one-basket deficit after a layup from senior center Adam Woodbury, and it had a chance to tie it with less than five seconds remaining, but senior guard Mike Gesell was swatted from behind by sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop at the rim.
As the scarlet-and-gray clad crowd erupted in piercing applause, Loving chased the ball down, then calmly sank two free throws to cap off the Buckeyes’ second-half push to grab a 68-64 upset on Sunday afternoon at the Schottenstein Center.
“This was a great win, because (first) we won the game but (also) how we had to win it,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “Being down, and fighting and scraping and clawing, we came together.”
Loving led OSU (19-11, 11-6) with 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including four 3-pointers. It was his first 20-plus point game since Jan. 3.
Besides getting it done on defense down the stretch, Bates-Diop supplied 19 points and six rebounds.
Williams, who was instrumental in the second half as OSU climbed back into it, finished with 11 points after a sluggish start. His energy off the bench, coupled with his scoring punch, proved to a key reason why the Buckeyes engineered the upset.
“Just because I’m missing shots doesn’t mean I have to stop being aggressive,” Williams said. “I just stay confident in my ability, and it worked out pretty well.”
The game’s opening five minutes were characterized by sloppy play — uncontested rebounds careening of players’ hands that eventually fell out of bounds, travels and lazy passes.
At the 15-minute mark, the teams had a combined seven turnovers, which was one more than total shots made.
Shortly after though, the offenses began to show a pulse.
The Hawkeyes (20-8, 11-5) secured a 12-7 advantage after an 8-0 run, and it looked like they really found their stride, but Loving would not let them break free.
The junior forward hit his second 3-pointer of the game, then followed it up with a layup after an aggressive take. Then, after a two-minute back-and-forth, Loving connected again from deep to give OSU a 15-13 lead with 11:04 left in the half.
Both teams brought high energy levels, as players were looking to push the ball off misses and were quick to the deck for loose balls. Williams didn’t score in his first-half stint off the bench, yet his ravid activity spread to his teammates.
Neither team could swing momentum solely in its favor, as they traded baskets throughout the final 10 minutes of the first half. It wasn’t until the final three minutes that the Buckeyes really looked like the better team.
After a crafty up-and-under reverse layup by Bates-Diop at the 1:42 mark, OSU led 33-28.
Maybe sensing it was its last time to see OSU at home in the regular season, the crowd was engaged, responding to unfavorable calls with emphatic boos, while cheering made baskets with heavy applause.
It provided the underdog Buckeyes with the necessary boost to overcome an 11-turnover first half to head into the locker room leading 35-30.
“We feed off their energy,” Loving said of the louder-than-usual fans. “The adrenaline definitely helps boost you a little bit.”
Loving paced the Scarlet and Gray with 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting, three of which were from downtown. Bates-Diop complemented Loving with 11 points of his own, as well as four rebounds.
As a team, the Buckeyes posted a 54 percent clip from the field, which was critical, along with the crowd’s boost, in overcoming 11 turnovers.
The Hawkeyes, despite shooting 39 percent from the field, including an 0-for-7 showing from 3-point territory, were able to trail by just five because a balanced attack. Seven players tallied points, with Gesell leading the way with 10.
Senior forward Jarrod Uthoff, a top candidate for conference player of the year, was held to seven points on 2-of-7 shooting.
If the Buckeyes devised a scheme during halftime to quickly bury the Hawkeyes, it was hard to tell.
The first two minutes couldn’t have gone much worse for OSU. The Buckeyes had three turnovers, including a lazy cross-court pass and one that went through redshirt sophomore center Trevor Thompson’s legs as he rolled uncovered to the basket.
Meanwhile for the Hawkeyes, junior guard Peter Jok drained a corner 3-pointer and Gesell sank two three throws to tie the game at 35-35.
OSU had the chance to try and put away Iowa early on, but it simply couldn’t rid itself of the turnovers, which continued to give the Hawkeyes extra possessions.
Frankly, the Buckeyes weren’t shooting bad from the field — at the 12:00 mark, they were at a respectable 48 percent — it’s just that they kept turning it over before attempting shots.
This allowed Iowa, powered by nine successive points from Uthoff, to methodically build momentum, despite multiple aggressive attempts by OSU to keep the game within its grasp.
After grabbing its first second-half lead at the 13:46 mark, Iowa held control over the next seven minutes, although Williams, Loving and Bates-Diop tried to claw OSU back.
Eventually, after trailing for much of the second half, the Buckeyes swung momentum back in their favor after Williams began heating up. Feeding off the crowd and, OSU was able to string together near-flawless play down to stretch to get the win in final regular-season game at the Schott.
“Today we just showed a great amount of toughness and the ability to fight adversity,” Loving said. “It’s hard to stay in the game with that amount of turnovers.”
Although Lyle didn’t score, the freshman point guard added five rebounds and five assists, two of which set up critical 3-pointers down the stretch.
Matta praised his young player for finding ways to impact the game outside of the scoring column.
Uthoff and Gesell finished with 16 points apiece to lead the Hawkeyes, who now drop to a three-way tie for second place in the Big Ten.
Looking for a second straight upset as a last-ditch effort to bolster their NCAA tournament résumé, the Buckeyes are scheduled to conclude their regular season Saturday on the road against Michigan State.
OSU fell to the Spartans 81-62 at home on Tuesday. The rematch is set for noon in East Lansing, Michigan.
“We’ve got to be a better basketball team up there on Saturday than we were last Tuesday,” Matta said. “We’ll go back to the drawing board, keep working and get better.”