With four games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament and an 0-7 record against teams in the Associated Press Top 25, Ohio State needed a win to prove its merit for the NCAA Tournament.
On Tuesday, the Buckeyes proved it, handedly defeating No. 22 Iowa 90-70 for their first win of the season against a top-six opponent in the Big Ten standings.
The 20-point victory is the largest since Ohio State defeated Minnesota 79-59 on Dec. 2.
In Tuesday’s win against the Hawkeyes, Ohio State scored at least 90 points for the first time in conference play and for the second time all season, scoring 107 against Purdue Fort Wayne on Nov. 11.
“A fun night for our guys,” head coach Chris Holtmann said. “As a coach, you love seeing your guys play with that level of joy and happiness.”
Ohio State started the game missing its first seven attempts from 3, finishing the first half 4-of-17 from behind the arc.
The second half started the same, with the Buckeyes missing their next two 3-point attempts. But then, the shots started to fall, specifically for Justin Ahrens.
The freshman forward hit the first 3 of the second half, leading Ohio State to hit its next five attempts, four of which were from Ahrens.
Ahrens finished the game with a career-high 29 points, 25 of which came in the second half, and was a team-high plus-31 for the team in his second collegiate start.
Ahrens hit all six of his 3-point attempts in the second half after missing his first four from the field.
His previous career-high was nine points, set against Maryland in the Buckeyes’ past matchup.
“I was really hot out there, it felt good, my teammates were feeding me really well,” Ahrens said. “Honestly, “You know that’s great, but we’re really just focused on punching our ticket to the tournament, and really that’s all on our mind right now.”
Ohio State shot 57.7 percent in the second half, including 53.5 percent from deep.
Sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson found himself in foul trouble again in the first half, playing only nine minutes and scoring seven points and five rebounds in limited time.
The foul trouble didn’t hold him back for long. The sophomore forward connected on a pair of and-1 opportunities early in the second half, giving Ohio State a 10-point lead following both free-throws.
Wesson finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, his first double-double since Dec. 22 against UCLA, and he said with players like Ahrens making shots from deep, it makes his job a simple one.
“It’s easy, with guys hitting shots like that, they can’t come down on me as much, and they gotta go out there,” Wesson said. “When they come down, I’m passing it out and they’re hitting wide open shots, it’s just, it makes for good basketball.”
When the Buckeyes faced the Hawkeyes on Jan. 12., Wesson had four fouls and five turnovers in 23 minutes.
It was Kaleb who found his stride as the game progressed, but junior forward Andre Wesson was the one who found consistency.
Andre Wesson played all but six seconds of the game for Ohio State. He finished with 11 points and five rebounds.
Holtmann said he didn’t realize he played Andre Wesson for that long.
“Did he play 40 minutes? Is that right?,” Holtmann said. “He was really good in some of his finishing, he’s battling guys that are three, four, five inches taller than he is, I thought he was good with the ball in the press, in attacking the press.”
The Buckeyes led Iowa 36-33 at halftime following a 3 by senior guard C.J. Jackson with 40 seconds to go, his first points of the game.
Jackson came off the bench after missing Ohio State’s past game against Maryland with a shoulder injury, and finished the game with six points and a team-high six assists in 34 minutes.
Freshman guard Duane Washington led all scorers with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting at halftime. Midway through the first half, Washington scored 10 of Ohio State’s 13 points to give the Buckeyes a 24-22 lead with 7:40 to go.
Late in the first half, Ahrens forced a steal, and hit a layup in the open court, while Iowa redshirt senior forward Nicholas Baer attempted to foul Ahrens prior to the shot.
The result was a flagrant foul on Baer, tying the game at 31 after Ahrens hit both free throws.
A win puts Ohio State at 8-9 in the Big Ten, and moves the team six spots up in the KenPom rankings, up to No. 31.
Ahrens said, even if it’s not discussed, that the NCAA Tournament is what’s on every player’s mind.
“We all know how bad we want to be there,” Ahrens said.
Ohio State will travel to West Lafayette, Indiana to take on No. 14 Purdue on Saturday.