Iowa CITY, Iowa - The Iowa basketball team has progressed up the basketball mountain this season. Ohio State showed the Hawkeyes Saturday that there's quite a way to go to reach the summit.
Coming off of surprise road wins at Wisconsin and Minnesota in the last week, Iowa welcomed the sixth-ranked Buckeyes to a Carver-Hawkeye Arena, which was just 100 tickets short of a sellout. The Hawkeye faithful was jacked up hoping to be a part of a basketball revival. Instead, they witness ed their team getting blown out.
"The only thing I can say to the fans is how much we appreciate, as a program, how engaged they were today, and encourage them to stick with us, because we have great kids, and they will work hard and they will come back and we'll play better," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "It can sometimes be a bumpy ride when you're building, as we are. We have got a lot of young guys out there that made some freshman mistakes and we have got some guys that are in a little bit of a funk. It takes time."
After hanging tough for a half, the Hawkeyes wilted shortly after coming out of the intermission. The Buckeyes scored the first six points of the second half to build a 40-25 lead with just under 17 minutes to play. Iowa never really challenged after that.
The 76-47 final score had little, if anything, to do with a lack of effort. It had everything to do with Ohio State being a superior team with more talent.
Iowa shot the ball poorly and missed some easy shots when the game was competitive. In the end, the Buckeyes' defense helped produce a 17-for-53 afternoon from the floor for the home team. The home team committed 20 turnovers to go with seven assists.
"You find yourself shooting a lot of either contested or sort of rushed shots, and then the thing they do, also, is they rebound," McCaffery said. "So if you don't make a contested shot, then you don't have a whole lot of second-shot opportunities."
Ohio State locked down the perimeter. Taking nothing away from the Buckeyes' defense, but Iowa's lack of a post game allowed them more freedom to push out on jump shots.
Forward Melsahn Basabe, a member of the conference all-freshman team a year ago, contributed very little for a second game in a row. After going scoreless against Minnesota on Wednesday, he checked in with only two points and four rebounds, while committing two turnovers in 14 minutes against Ohio State.
Starting Center Zach McCabe struggled with foul trouble and scored only six points and failed to grab a rebound. Key reserve Aaron White turned it over a couple of times and managed just three points.
Meanwhile, Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger thrived. A marked man anywhere he plays in the country, the sophomore connected on 13 of 18 field goal attempts and finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and four steals in 31 minutes. The Buckeyes held a 44-22 advantage on points in the paint.
"We just didn't do a very good job on him, and it's a collective thing," McCaffery said. "We didn't have enough ball pressure, we didn't have enough weak side help. We didn't recognize when to be on the high side, when to be in front, when to be behind."
There's little doubt that the Hawkeyes missed out on an opportunity here on Saturday. They had built momentum in the last week. The fans were engaged following many winters of discontent during the last 10-15 years. A win against a Top 10 team could have shot everyone's confidence through the roof.
The Hawkeyes just aren't there yet. That's the reality.
McCaffery has done wonders in his first year and a half in Iowa City. His predecessor, Todd Lickliter, presided over the worst three-year stretch in program history.
We learned Saturday that this Iowa team can't afford to receive average to below average games from guys like Basabe, McCabe and Bryce Cartwright when it plays the best teams in the league, which, not coincidently, are the top teams in the country. And while McCaffery's bench has improved dramatically over the one he had last year, freshmen like White and Josh Oglesby are infants as far as the Big Ten goes.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are big boys. Sullinger might be the best player in college basketball. Williams Buford could be a lottery pick and Deshaun Thomas is a future pro. Those guys are surrounded by a very talented and effective supporting cast.
Iowa took away the three-point games of Wisconsin and Minnesota while also doing well with its interior defense. Sullinger didn't allow that to happen, and the Buckeyes found themselves free enough to make 7 of 14 from behind the arc.
"It didn't go the way we wanted it to at all," Hawkeye Sophomore Devyn Marble said. "(Sullinger) just did whatever he wanted. We really didn't stick to the game plan the way we were supposed to, and that's the players' fault."
It would have been nice to see Iowa play better on Saturday. An 8-10 point loss wouldn't have been such a punch in the gut.
"We are all disappointed with what happened today," McCaffery said. "You know, we can nitpick…and all we have to do is go back and break the film down and try to look at, okay, what did we do to get two great wins and what did we do today that wasn't as effective, and grow from it."
That's the key for Iowa. Regardless of how the fans feel, the players can't fold despite the haymaker landed by the Buckeyes.
"I think it shows that we still have a lot to work on," Iowa Captain Matt Gatens said. "Maybe it will humble us a little bit. The truth is that we're still 2-2. We're not dead in the water. We're .500 and still have a great opportunity (at Michigan State) on Tuesday night. Two and two is solid. We'd like to be 4-0, but there's a long way to go."