Buckeyes Travel To Iowa Wednesday

There are just two games left in the regular season and Ohio State will look to get one step closer to the 20-win mark when it travels to Iowa on Wednesday. The Buckeyes defeated the Hawkeyes 81-69 in Columbus on Jan. 8. Here is a preview.

Ohio State will look to snap a two-game losing streak when it travels to Iowa on Wednesday (8:05 p.m., ESPN Plus).

The Buckeyes (18-10, 7-7 Big Ten) lost 64-56 to visiting Wisconsin on Saturday.

The Hawkeyes (18-8, 7-8) are coming off a 78-56 rout of host Penn State on Saturday.

Many people expected that Iowa would fall apart after junior guard Pierre Pierce was suspended for the remainder of the season, but it has played well without him. Through 20 games, Pierce was averaging 17.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.

Three players in particular have really picked up the load with Pierce out.

Greg Brunner, a 6-7 junior forward, is averaging 14.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.

Adam Haluska, a 6-5 junior guard, is averaging 14.1 points and 3.9 rebounds.

And Jeff Horner, a 6-3 junior guard, is averaging 13.6 points, 5.4 assists and 4.3 rebounds.

Rounding out Iowa's starting lineup is: 6-11 junior forward Erek Hanson (5.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg) and 6-2 sophomore guard Mike Henderson (4.0 ppg, 1.2 apg).

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta does not think the loss of Pierce has affected the Hawkeyes too much.

"They don't play different," he said. "They're running a lot of the same stuff. I think that Haluska has taken on much more of a scoring role than he was the first time we played them. Brunner is doing the same thing, as well as Horner. Henderson who they are starting in his place is extremely athletic and I think he's done a decent job of filling in for him."

With the Buckeyes not playing for an NCAA Tournament bid, it might be harder for Matta to get his players motivated for the final week of the regular season. But he doesn't view it that way.

"No, I don't," he said. "I think it would appear on the surface that way, because we had a week layoff. But as we come through practice and just kind of reading their moods, I think these guys still have the competitive edge about them."

Matta said he was not happy with the lack of intensity from his players in the Wisconsin game.

"The week off may have had something to do with it," he said. "But probably the No. 1 thing to deal with it was Wisconsin. I thought they played… I know as well as I've seen them play on tapes that I watched going into the game. They hit the tough shots when they needed to hit them, they made the plays when they needed to make them. We didn't make the plays in the game. We became a little bit discouraged in that regard. But, like I said, I felt Wisconsin came in here and beat us. I wouldn't say that we beat ourselves. They did the job on us."

Ohio State defeated Iowa 81-69 on Jan. 8 in Columbus. As usual, Matta knows that he will have to make some adjustments playing a team for the second time.

"Yeah, I think as you go into every game, you take what you do and maybe modify it," he said. "Maybe twist and turn some things. I think we've done that pretty effectively.

"I think that the biggest challenge that we have is that we're a team that needs to make some shots. Hopefully, like we've been doing the last couple of days, we'll shoot the ball a lot better. I think if you go back to the Iowa game last time we played them, it was a very fast-paced, transition-oriented game. At that time we were shooting a little bit quicker. I don't know what (Wednesday) night will bring. But I think with the scouting, they'll have us scouted well and we'll have them scouted well. Then it kind of comes down to guys have to make some plays."

The Buckeyes have often settled for outside jumpers this year. But with the team's shooting percentage falling like the stock market, Matta wants to see more guys taking the ball to the rack.

"I think we're getting a little bit better at driving the ball," he said. "We've shown that we can do that. (Matt Sylvester) has gotten better at it, Je'Kel (Foster) has gotten better at it, and I think James (Sullinger) has gotten better at it. James the other day (against Wisconsin) goes 2 for 7 and has all of his shots were in the paint. A couple of those things were great shots, they just didn't go in for us. I think that's something that we've got to continue to work on."

Looking ahead, Matta was asked how important it is to get ready for the Big Ten Tournament.

"The goal is not to do well in the Big Ten Tournament," he said. "The goal is for this team to get better every day. I think us coming out and playing great basketball (Tuesday) in practice, I know that's what my goal is. I don't ever want to put stock in a four-day tournament."

But he does convey the message to his players that he wants the team playing its best basketball at the end of the season, even if there's not a postseason to play for.

"No question about it," Matta said. "And that's the thing, throughout the month of February, I thought we played some pretty good basketball. Trying to build on that and battle through the tough spurts of the game. I thought the difference in the Wisconsin game was the last two and a half minutes of the first half. That's what broke our back. We had a couple key turnovers and we just couldn't get the stops when we needed them. And those are the things that I'm trying to alleviate is how do we stop those bad stretches."

Matta says that Iowa is a much-improved team defensively.

"They are like us," he said. "They are kind of a young team and I think those guys are growing into an understanding of what they're trying to do defensively maybe a little bit better now than earlier in the year."

As his first season at OSU nears its end, Matta was asked what he is most pleased with regarding his team and its development.

"I think for the most part we've taken the competitive spirit into each game," he said. "I think our defense has improved leaps and bounds from the beginning of the year. I think at times when we're clicking offensively, we're a hard team to guard. But I think the No. 1 thing is that I truly enjoy being around these guys. I enjoy coaching this team and as it comes down to the last week of the season, I think that they feel my passion of making this team better every day."

Ohio State usually plays well when junior center Terence Dials is on his game. But when Dials is slumping, or is in foul trouble, the Buckeyes have trouble getting anything done.

"There is no secret – Terence needs to play well for us to win," Matta said. "Him having a solid game is very important for us. But I think that we've proven over time that we need 12 guys playing well. That's who we are. So, I think it's a collective effort for us when we go up to Iowa, but knowing that Terence needs to have a good game."

Dials is averaging 15.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. The All-Big Ten teams will be announced in the near future and Dials could be headed for first-team honors.

"That would be nice to get," Dials admitted. "But it wouldn't just be for Terence Dials, it would be for the whole team because I couldn't do it without them. If I did get that, it would be a credit for the whole team and it would be good for the program."

Dials expected Iowa to go into a slump when he heard that Pierce was suspended for the season, but he credits the Hawkeyes for continuing to play hard and win games.

"They haven't given up and they've played well without him," Dials said. "And that's the one thing that coach (Steve) Alford is proud of his guys for. I think they are still playing hard."

Even two days later, Dials still shakes his head when asked about the Wisconsin game. He is ashamed that the Bucks couldn't produce a better homecoming for John Havlicek, who had his No. 5 jersey retired at halftime.

"Yeah, because it was one of those things where he came and gave you the talk and said, ‘If you ever do get beat, make sure that the guy that beats you knows that you are there.' I don't think Wisconsin knew that we were there," Dials said. "They were making shots left and right and it seems like they played the greatest defense in the world, but we just weren't hitting our shots. It's sad to see as special of a day as it was for him for us to lose."

Since they are not playing for the NCAA Tournament, one of the big goals for this year's team is to win 20 games.

"It's something that we talk about," Dials said. "We pretty much just compete and try and get the next win. But 20 wins would be a great feat for us because most college basketball teams are measured by 20 wins. You know, if you have 20 wins, this and that. Hopefully we can get that done and it will be a pretty good season for us."

Foster agreed with the big man.

"Oh yeah, that would be great getting 20 wins," he said. "That's something that every college basketball team shoots for and it's definitely something that has been brought up."

Foster is averaging 7.7 points per game, but his 3-point shot has not been falling as much recently. However, he is still shooting 42 percent from long range.

"I'm still feeling good," Foster said. "Sometimes the shots don't fall in the games, but you just have to keep your confidence up and keep firing when a good shot presents itself. I'm feeling good in practice, so I'm just going to continue to keep playing hard and hopefully start knocking down some more shots."

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