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Ohio State men’s basketball avoids late scare, survives Iowa

The Ohio State men’s basketball team has not always excelled in the late stages of games this season, sometimes struggling to score for extended periods of time.
Such was the case again Tuesday night at the Schottenstein Center, as the No. 14-ranked Buckeyes avoided a complete collapse to squeak by unranked Iowa, 72-63.
OSU spent the first three quarters of the contest dominating the Hawkeyes in nearly every facet of the game. The Buckeyes’ lead swelled to 24 midway through the second half, and a rout seemed imminent.
But the Hawkeyes implemented a full-court press in the second half, using pressure to force a myriad of OSU mistakes. In all, the Iowa harassed OSU into 17 turnovers, a game-high six coming from junior point guard Aaron Craft.
“They changed some things up, got in a press and just kind of sped us up a little bit,” Craft said. “We just started not executing our offense. We weren’t thinking as well as we should have been, it wasn’t until the end that we tried to figure it out.”
As the Buckeyes gave away the ball, they slowly gave away their big lead. With 1:29 to play, the Hawkeyes had cut the OSU lead to four. The Buckeyes, though, regrouped and finished with a 9-4 run to close out the win in less than spectacular fashion.
“A win is a win in conference play,” Craft said. “In this league you’ve got to protect home court. We didn’t do it the prettiest way, we didn’t finish the way we probably wanted to, but we got the win.”
OSU coach Thad Matta agreed, though he acknowledged the Buckeyes will have to learn from their mistakes.
“I do think in the league we’re in right now, you take your wins and semi-celebrate them,” Matta said. “By the same token, you’ve got to look at things and say ‘How do we get better?'”
Craft struggled with ball security, but he forced four turnovers as well. His first swipe of the night put him in OSU’s record book as the school’s all-time leader in steals with 205.
“It’s a great honor, a great accomplishment,” Craft said. “We have a lot more important things to worry about than individual awards.”
Aside from turnovers, the Buckeyes’ biggest problem likely came on the glass, where they were outrebounded, 40-34, gave up 22 offensive rebounds and didn’t receive any production from their starting big man. Sophomore Amir Williams blocked six shots but didn’t pull down a single board.
It was a fairly bizarre performance from the 6-foot-11 center, and one that he was disappointed in.
“Me having zero rebounds, that’s just unacceptable on my behalf,” Williams said. “I feel like I was going after too many blocks and I kind of put myself out of position a little bit to rebound the basketball. It’s something I’ve got to continue to work on.”
Junior forward Deshaun Thomas, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, scored a game-high 16 points despite taking an elbow to the face in the second half. Thomas briefly left the game, and returned with a bandage above his right eye.
Craft and junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. also chipped in 12 points and senior forward Evan Ravenel added 11.
With the win, OSU improves to 14-4 on the season and 4-2 in Big Ten play. Iowa falls to 13-6 on the year and 2-4 in the conference.
The Buckeyes return to action on Jan. 26 against Penn State in State College, Pa.
“Our guys are exhausted,” Matta said. “I probably pushed them a little bit harder than I’ve ever pushed a team, dating back to a couple weeks ago. We need rest physically and mentally to come back on Thursday (for practice) and get ready for Penn State.”
 

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