Iowa rides its defense to convincing 73-57 win at No. 4 Ohio State
Iowa locked in on defense from start to finish in first game without injured Jack Nunge
By Pat Harty
I certainly didn’t see that coming.
I didn’t see the Iowa men’s basketball team winning pretty easily at No. 4 Ohio State on Sunday, or winning at all, for that matter.
To say it was easy might be the wrong choice of words because winning a Big Ten game is never easy, especially on the road.
It’s just that Luka Garza and his cohorts made it look easy at times as No. 9 Iowa rolled to a 73-57 victory at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
And they did it without sophomore forward Jack Nunge, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Thursday’s 79-57 loss at Michigan.
An Iowa team that sometimes struggles on defense was locked in and connected on defense from start to finish.
Combine the high-level defense with the 6-foot-11 Garza doing his usual thing on offense with 24 points and 11 rebounds, and with his supporting cast combining to make 10 shots from 3-point range, it was just too much for Ohio State to overcome.
“We’re an experienced group, we’re a resilient group and we know and have had confidence all year that we can hang with the best of the best, and we know we can beat them,” Garza said. “Unfortunately, we’ve had a couple performances that didn’t reflect how good we are against those teams.
“So it was nice tonight to be able to play one of the best teams in the country and be able to take them down on their own floor.”
This was the Iowa team that fans envisioned heading into the season, although, I’m not sure even the most optimistic Hawkeye fan would’ve expected this kind of suffocating performance on defense against the fourth-ranked team in the country, and on the road.
The first half on Sunday was maybe Iowa’s best half of the season, and without question it was on defense.
Iowa did just about everything well on defense in the first half, from clogging the passing lanes to stopping the ball in transition to playing help defense to protecting the rim.
It was in stark contrast to the second half of Thursday’s loss at Michigan when Iowa allowed 47 points during the final 20 minutes.
Iowa led the Buckeyes 42-28 at halftime, which is a nice cushion to have.
But this was the same Ohio State team that overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to defeat Iowa 89-85 on Feb. 4 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
And the Buckeyes immediately started chipping away at the deficit on Sunday.
But this time Iowa quelled the comeback bid and built another double-digit lead, thanks largely to its defense.
“We know how much that home loss hurt when we were up eleven and we lost that lead,” Garza said. “So that was big motivation for us in the game.”
Freshman forward Keegan Murray had two steals, one block, five rebounds and eight points while playing 21 minutes off the bench. Murray’s help defense in the first half was especially impressive, and his defense against Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell in the second half was a key to victory.
“I think his impact on the glass and at the defensive end was major factor in our ability to win,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “But he also, I think, scored enough to keep everybody honest. And that’s what he does.”
Sophomore point guard Joe Toussaint, who had been struggling, also performed well off the bench with seven assists in 12 minutes.
“He played with great pace,” Fran McCaffery said. “And when he does, he impacts the game the way he did today.”
And speaking of assists, Iowa senior point guard Jordan Bohannon had five assists to become Iowa’s all-time assists leader.
Iowa assisted on 19 of its 29 field goals and only had five turnovers.
“I knew I was really close and I didn’t end up getting it at Michigan, but for some reason I thought I was going to get it at a point where we were going to win a big game,” Bohannon said. “And that was able to be at Ohio State in a place I hadn’t won yet, a team that’s predicted to be a top seed in the entire NCAA Tournament.
“So I think the fact that I was able to have that happen in this kind of game means a lot me and knowing that we got the win is the most important.”
Fran McCaffery has so much to be proud about with Sunday’s convincing win, starting with the effort on defense.
“The defense was really good,” Fran McCaffery said.
As deflating as the loss was to Michigan, it’s still just one loss. Iowa has now won five of its last six games, so the team is really is peaking at the right time.
Iowa (18-7, 12-6) will close out the regular season against Nebraska on Thursday and against Wisconsin on Sunday, with both games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I just feel like today we played pretty much a complete game and that’s how you want to be this time of year,” Fran McCaffery said. “Yeah, okay, they had run. But that’s part of it. We played the fourth-ranked team on the road, they’re going to do some good things.
“But how does your team respond? And it think we responded in a real positive way. So it’s great to have a performance like this. But now you’ve got to turn around and do it again.’
While Iowa was coming off the deflating loss at Michigan after having won its previous four games, Ohio State was coming off back-to-back losses to Michigan and Michigan State.
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann was also ejected late in the 71-67 loss to Michigan State this past Thursday, so it was reasonable to think that his team would perform at a high level, but that wasn’t the case.
Iowa dominated the first half and then protected is lead in the second half.