Mike Gesell took the inbounds pass with just 7.5 seconds left and appeared to have a clear path to the rim for a game-tying layup. Keita Bates-Diop wasn’t having it.
The Ohio State sophomore recovered to block the Iowa guard from behind and Marc Loving hauled in the rebound, hitting two free throws with 1.2 seconds left to give Ohio State (19-11, 11-6) a 68-64 win over No. 8 Iowa (20-8, 11-5) in the Buckeyes final home game of the season.
“They set a high ball screen for Gesell and he was able to get around the corner, but Keita recovered pretty quickly, he’s got a hell of a wingspan,” Loving said of the defensive stand. “Keita came up with a big-time play and we just needed the ball at that time. Whoever got the ball, we just needed the possession.”
It was all part of a strong closing performance from Ohio State, which used 12-2 run over the final 3:50 to turn a 6-point deficit into a 4-point win.
Following a Thad Matta timeout the Buckeyes took the floor trailing visiting Iowa 62-58 with just 3:48 remaining. After a Trevor Thompson block Loving, Ohio State’s only junior, knocked down a huge three from the corner to pull the Buckeyes within one. Kam Williams, a third-year sophomore, hit a long two on the very next possession to give the Buckeyes a 63-62 advantage they wouldn’t surrender.
Williams followed his jumper, which was initially ruled a three but overturned as a two, with a three with 1:00 remaining that all but secured the victory, giving Ohio State a 66-62 advantage. The shooting guard scored all 11 of his points in the second half and had seven in the game-defining run.
“He wasn’t very good in the first half,” Matta said. “I was not happy with him and the way he was playing, but very, very excited to see him respond to the challenge I presented to him. He was tremendous for us. When he’s got his eyes on the rim, good things can happen.”
It was a nice response from Ohio State after the Buckeyes squandered a five-point halftime advantage. Iowa took its first advantage of the second half on a three from Jared Uthoff, giving them a 44-42 lead with 13:46. That was the first advantage for the Hawkeyes since a 28-26 advantage with 3:55 left in the first.
The Iowa lead would swell to six twice over the game’s final seven minutes, but Ohio State kept coming back. That effort was even more impressive, Matta said, given that the Buckeyes were without Jae’Sean Tate, their emotionally leader, for the second straight game after the forward had season-ending shoulder surgery Friday.
“To put it in perspective, this was a great win because A., we won the game, but B., how we had to win it. Being down and fighting and scraping and clawing. We came together,” the coach said “Timeouts were electric, the huddles on the floor were electric and that’s something that a guy like Jae’Sean Tate usually brought to the table. We FaceTimed him in the locker room and presented him the game ball via FaceTime and I don’t think he’ll remember tomorrow, but we did do it. I say that from the standpoint of we just made the plays that we needed to make down the stretch. Keita’s block on the layup was just a tremendous extra ordinary type of play. Hopefully we can continue to move forward with this with this young basketball team.”
The resilient game from the Buckeyes came despite foul trouble and a number of turnovers from the home team. Ohio State, which took a 35-30 advantage into the half, turned the ball over 15 times in the win, a number matched by Iowa on a sloppy afternoon from both teams. After the first three possessions of the second half, however, the Buckeyes turned it over just once in the final 18 minutes.
“I feel like today we just showed a great amount of toughness and the ability to fight adversity,” Loving said. “Hats off to Iowa, they made us turn the ball over a lot in the first half. I want to say we had 11 turnovers, it’s hard to stay in the game when you have that amount of turnovers.”
Mickey Mitchell and Daniel Giddens each finished their night with four fouls while Trevor Thompson fouled out with 59 seconds remaining as the Buckeyes won despite Iowa scoring 17 points at the free-throw line.
The Ohio State turnovers led to 18 points for the Hawkeyes and were a problem for Ohio State from the start. The Buckeyes turned the ball over on its first two possessions of the game but were able to lead for much of the first half thanks to poor shooting from the Hawkeyes. Iowa, which entered the game shooting 38.8 percent from three-point range, missed all seven of its attempts from distance in the first half.
The poor shooting from the visitors was highlighted late in the first half as Iowa missed seven straight shots during a 2:58 scoring drought and 3:45 field goal drought, the latter of which didn’t end until a Mike Gesell dunk with 4:52 remaining. Still, Ohio State was able to close the half on a 9-2 for the 5-point halftime advantage.
In addition to the strong finish from Williams, Loving finished with a game-high 25 points while Bates-Diop had 19. Mitchell, starting in place on the injured Jae’Sean Tate for the second straight game, scored a career-high six points.
The strong performance from Ohio State’s two leading scorers in Bates-Diop and Loving came in contrast to the performance by Uthoff and Peter Jok. The Hawkeyes two leading scorers entered the game averaging 18.6 and 16.5 points, respectively, but finished with 16 and 12 while shooting a combined 9 of 27.