Losing at home is never in the plans, but winning on the road can provide some solace.
That’s exactly the chance the Ohio State men’s basketball team has Saturday afternoon when the Buckeyes are set to take on Iowa on the road. The last time the two teams met was less than three weeks ago, with the Hawkeyes upsetting the then-No. 20 Buckeyes, 71-65, at the Schottenstein Center.
OSU coach Thad Matta said he’ll let his players decide whether or not to use that loss as an extra motivating factor, but added he wants them to understand why the loss happened and what has to happen differently in order to win.
“The biggest thing I want them to know is why they beat us, why they got out to a 17-5 start, why they did this to us, why they did that to us,” Matta said Friday. “And those are the things that (we’re) trying to get corrected, and telling our guys, ‘These are things that we have to do in order to stand a chance to win the basketball game on Saturday, because we didn’t do them the first time and it didn’t work out well.’”
After that loss to Iowa, OSU (14-4, 3-2) bounced back with two wins in a row — including an overtime victory against Minnesota on the road — before losing its second Big Ten game to Indiana on Jan. 10.
“We feel like we didn’t come ready to play in those two losses that we had,” senior center Amir Williams said Friday. “We know it’s something we gotta do, if we’re gonna win the Big Ten, we’re gonna have to come ready to play every single night.”
But the Buckeyes’ most recent game came as a momentum boost as they topped Michigan, 71-52, ahead of their rematch with the Hawkeyes. Now with a 3-1 record since the loss to Iowa, OSU has begun to put the pieces together, including refining a new defensive scheme.
Sophomore forward Marc Loving said he expects to keep the new defense in the game plan against Iowa, but added the Buckeyes will be ready to adjust if need be.
“We’ll probably come out in our man-to-man defense, see how that works up against them,” Loving said Friday. “And we possibly might have to change defenses, we don’t know.”
The first time the two teams played, Loving and the Buckeyes employed a 2-3 zone defense, but have played man-to-man ever since. The Hawkeyes’ two main scoring threats — senior forward Aaron White and junior forward Jarrod Uthoff — thrived against the zone earlier this season, each scoring 18 points against OSU.
Loving said he feels the change to a man defense can help him and his teammates slow down the Iowa attack.
“We feel like we match up pretty well with Iowa, even though they’re a long, athletic team,” he said. “We play very, very solid on man-to-man defense, so we’ll be able to cover up gaps and be able to recover a lot quicker than we did last time.”
Beyond getting defensive stops, Williams said the Buckeyes’ top priority has to be to keep focused and keep the energy up from tip-off to the final whistle.
“I believe as long as we do so, I think we’ll continue to win games throughout the Big Ten season,” he said. “But like I said our main focus right now is just finding our identity and playing 40 minutes of great basketball.”
Matta said part of the identity he wants to see from his team comes down to holding each other accountable and playing with toughness, but he added individuals have to perform as well.
While White and Uthoff are the main names for the Hawkeyes, it’s been freshman guard D’Angelo Russell keying the Buckeyes when they’re at their best. Through the first 17 games of his collegiate career, Russell has averaged 17.9 points per game while he is second on the team in both rebounds and assists.
Matta said in order for OSU to be at its best, Russell has to be at the top of his game.
“We need him to play well,” Matta said. “I think one of the great things I’ve seen with D’Angelo is his explosiveness to score the basketball, but also make other guys around him better.”
Tip-off between the Buckeyes and the Hawkeyes is set for 2 p.m. EST in Iowa City, Iowa.
And no matter the difficulty of winning on the road, Loving said OSU will be ready to find a way to win on the Hawkeyes’ home court.
“We feel like our chances are pretty good going into their house,” he said. “We just gotta go in with our minds ready to play, and hopefully we play our best game.”