By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa’s Super Seven did it again, this time at home and against one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten.
The depleted Hawkeyes led Ohio State from start to finish, and by double figures for long stretches and ultimately prevailed 85-76 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Redshirt freshman guard C.J. Fredrick missed his second game in a row due to an ankle injury that he sustained in the first half against Indiana last Thursday in Bloomington, Ind.
That left Iowa with just seven recruited scholarships players, but seven was more than enough as Luka Garza and his depleted supporting cast continue to be virtually unbeatable at home this season.
Iowa improved to 13-1 at home this season and has won 12 games in a row at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Its only blemish was a 93-78 thrashing against DePaul in the second game on Nov. 11th, but that drubbing now appears to be a fluke or an outlier based on what Iowa has accomplished since then.
Ohio State never led in Thursday’s game and trailed by double figures for most of it. And this was a Buckeye squad that had won five of its previous six games.
Ohio State cut the lead to single digits in the final minute of the game and Fran McCaffery wasn't pleased when he called a late timeout.
But it was too little and too late for the Buckeyes.
And by the time he met with the media, Fran McCaffery focused more on how his team started the game rather than how it finished it. McCaffery was asked about his team's quick start and he credited one thing.
"Anytime you're playing a quality team like that, it starts with you defense," Fran McCaffery said. "Really, a result of our defensive intensity and execution. Execution is critical on defense, too, not just offense."
Iowa was leading 51-42 when senior guard Bakari Evelyn made a 3-point basket with 14 minutes, 54 seconds left to play. Junior forward Cordell Pemsl then followed with his third basket of the game, and in a matter of seconds, the lead was back to double figures at 14 points at 56-42.
This marks the second game in a row in which Evelyn and Pemsl have both provided much-needed sparks off the bench. Evelyn finished with 15 points, while Pemsl had nine points and eight rebounds.
Both players appear to be more comfortable on offense, and that could be due to getting extended minutes and more opportunities to score.
"When I'm hitting shots, it's definitely opening up the floor, plus we're giving Luka and other guys more space to operate," Evelyn said. "So I think that's a good thing for the team."
Freshman point guard Joe Toussaint also provided a boost on offense with nine points, including two 3-point baskets.
Teams are allowing the lightning-quick Toussaint to shoot freely from 3-point range because he has struggled with that part of his game.
But that could change if Toussaint continues to shoot like he did in Thursday’s game.
"That's what I'm working towards, that's my goal," Toussaint said. "Just keep putting up shots and kep making shots and keep taking good shots and just staying confident. And all of it is going to pay off."
As for Garza, it was just another typical performance for the 6-foot-11 junior center as he scored at least 20 points for the 12th consecutive game with 24 points. Garza’s streak of consecutive games with at least 20 points is the longest by a Hawkeye since Fred Brown did it in 13 straight games in 1970.
No. 20 Iowa improved to 19-8 overall and 10-6 in the Big Ten and now has the weekend off before playing at Michigan State next Tuesday.
The Hawkeyes have all but secured an NCAA Tournament berth for the fifth time in the last seven seasons under Fran McCaffery, so now it basically comes down to playing for the highest seed possible.
Ohio State, ranked 25th in this week Associated Press poll, fell to 17-9 overall and 7-8 in the Big Ten.
Iowa bolted to an 18-3 lead and led by as many as 19 points in the first half before the Buckeyes finally started to cut into the deficit late in the half.
Kyle Young grabbed an offensive rebound and made a basket that cut Iowa’s lead to 43-35 with less than one minute left in the first half.
That was the closest that the Buckeyes had been since the opening minutes of the game, but then Joe Wieskamp made a 3-point basket from the baseline in the closing seconds to give Iowa a 46-35 lead at halftime.
Franj McCaffery was asked if he had devised a play for Wieskamp to shoot during a timeout.
"No, I did," Fran McCaffery said. "I wish I could tell you that I did. We called a man play and they came out in zone."
As for Fredrick's status, Fran McCaffery said he is making considerable progress, but still wast too sore to play in Thursday's game.
""Fairly close, fairly close," McCaffery said of Fredrick's playing status. "He worked out hard this morning to see. It was too sore.
"We need him for long term. We're not going to try and steal one game and see if we can get 15 minutes out of him. There's no way he could hve plauyed 35 minutes, so there is no sense putting him out there."
As it turns out, Iowa didn't need its third leading scorer because seven was enough.
"Give Iowa credit, thought they played really well," said Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann. "Kind of jumped us out of the start."
Holtmann also provided an update on the status of freshman point guard and Bettendorf native D.J. Carton, who left the Ohio State recently to deal with mental health issues.
"D.J. is returning to school and the biggst thing for him is we want him to get on a parth towards better health," Holtmann said.