The start of the conference schedule is usually when the season’s most important business begins — a string of unfamiliar teams replaced by old rivals.
But for the Ohio State men’s basketball team, the change in competition wasn’t a welcome one. The beginning of the Big Ten season got off to a losing start as the No. 20 Buckeyes fell at home to Iowa by a score of 71-65.
The Hawkeyes (10-4, 1-0) were on top of things from the tip, going on an early 8-0 run before eventually leading 17-5 less than four minutes into the game.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes (11-3, 0-1) put Iowa on the free throw line twice in the opening minutes. OSU wouldn’t get a chance at the free throw line until there was just over six minutes to play in the opening half.
Matta said his team practiced hard the day before, but they didn’t seem to bring the same type of play to the court on Tuesday.
“They stunned us early by pushing the ball up the floor, and that led to 17 points in the first four minutes. We were in a hole that we were fighting the entire game,” Matta said. “For whatever reason, we didn’t have the energy or the juice we needed.”
OSU senior forward Sam Thompson said the way Iowa opened the game was down to the Buckeyes’ poor execution on the other side of the ball.
“We let them dictate what they wanted to do,” Thompson said. “We always pride ourselves on defense and we didn’t have the type of activity and communication that we needed to early in the game to really impose our will on the game.”
After the quick start, Iowa continued to keep OSU at bay with a high shooting percentage from the field. The Hawkeyes made six of their first seven shots.
At the other end, the Buckeyes missed four straight attempts until redshirt-freshman guard Kam Williams entered the game at the 16:02 mark and immediately made an impact with the team’s first three-pointer. Williams followed that play with a steal and an assist to Big Ten Freshman of the Week, guard D’Angelo Russell, but sophomore guard Peter Jok put home an offensive rebound on the ensuing possession to respond for the Hawkeyes.
Second-chance points were a theme for Iowa, as they had nine in the first half to OSU’s two. Those putbacks came off eight offensive rebounds, five more than the Buckeyes had in the same span.
Thompson said Iowa’s performance on its offensive glass also had a trickle-down effect on OSU’s offensive output. The Buckeyes entered Tuesday’s game tied for first in the Big Ten in three-point percentage at 42 percent, but the Hawkeyes held them to only 25 percent.
“(Iowa) rebounded the ball, they scored the ball. It’s hard to get out in transition, it’s hard to get our rhythm, it’s hard to get the threes that we’ve been getting all season when we’re taking the ball out of bounds, when we’re setting up after a dead ball,” Thompson said. “We gotta do a better job of defending and rebounding, and allow that to translate into our offense.”
Iowa’s junior forward Jarrod Uthoff led all first-half scorers with 12 points while Thompson led the Buckeyes with seven. Russell and Kam Williams were the only Buckeyes with more than one assist in the opening 20 minutes.
OSU sophomore forward Marc Loving shot just one of three from the field in the first half, and said Iowa’s defensive play made things difficult for him and his teammates.
“You gotta give credit to Iowa. They played very hard, they created a lot of turnovers and we were stagnant in the first half,” he said.
Thompson started the second half with a floater for the Buckeyes, and the home team had seven of the half’s first nine points. Iowa, however, continued to be the superior team on the glass, and they held a 12-point lead a little over halfway through the period.
The senior also completed a three-point play with 7:51 left in the game to cut the Iowa lead to seven. Over two minutes later Loving hit his second three-pointer to pull the Buckeyes to within six.
Russell, who was on the floor with four fouls, hit a three-pointer with 3:25 to go to cut the Iowa lead to three. The Hawkeyes come straight back with five points of their own to push the margin back to eight, before another Thompson three-point play put the Buckeyes down five.
The Buckeyes were led by Thompson with 17 points on six for 11 shooting.
Uthoff and senior forward Aaron White both had 18 points to lead the Hawkeyes who defeated the Buckeyes in Columbus for the second straight year. White led all players in rebounds with nine, while Loving led the Buckeyes in that department with six.
The deficit was still five with under a minute left as OSU forced Iowa into a shot-clock violation. The Buckeyes then missed their next three shots, including a jumper by Russell that effectively ended their chances at a comeback.
Matta said his team will have to look at the film and try to pinpoint why mistakes were made in the zone defense scheme.
“We can’t make the mistakes we made defensively. It was mind-boggling the things we did in the zone that we haven’t done all year, and you’re saying ‘Why now? Why would you guard it that way when we’ve never practiced it that way?’ And that’s a concentration, that’s a focus,” Matta said.
The Buckeyes are set to return to the floor on Saturday as they host Illinois. Tipoff is set for 3:30 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.