If you didn't know any better, just looking at the boxscore of Ohio State's 75-56 victory against Iowa State on Tuesday, you may have thought the final margin accurately described the game.
A closer examination of the game's statistics even suggest that theory.
After all, Ohio State shot 53 percent for the game. Even more impressive, the Buckeyes turned the ball over just eight times. On the contrary, Iowa State shot just 40 percent and turned the ball over 14 times. Add in the fact the game's turtle pace featured fewer possessions than most, and you would think a 19-point victory sounded about right.
That couldn't have been further from the truth.
As if the Buckeyes were playing Greg McDermott's former Northern Iowa ballclub instead of Iowa State, the Cyclones hung around and made life miserable for the Buckeyes after every inclination they were going to instead pull away. It wasn't until the final five minutes did Ohio State finally put the game on ice.
Tuesday's game stayed close because of defensive lapses, second-chance opportunities by Iowa State and uninspired play in the first half by the Buckeyes. Give the Cyclones credit - they didn't back down from No. 3 Ohio State.
There were any number of times that Ohio State could have put the game away, but they didn't. There were several times it looked like Ohio State was starting to click on all cylinders, but they didn't. Instead, Iowa State fought tooth-and-nail until finally they just wore down at crunch time.
Were the Buckeyes caught looking ahead to Saturday's showdown in the Swamp at No. 4 Florida? Perhaps. Ohio State head coach Thad Matta will be happy to have this one behind him.
* For the first time all season, I'm nearly advocating the switch of Daequan Cook for Jamar Butler in the starting lineup. Almost. Butler, the 6-1 junior point-guard-turned-shooting-guard has shown small flashes but remains extremely quiet in his new role offensively. Sure, Butler is a terrific defender and is far from useless when he's on the floor, but recently he's contributed next-to-nothing. It's all a comfort level with Butler and because of Cook's inspired play, perhaps he's earned a starting spot. However, the risk you run is losing the psyche of your upperclassman all together if you bench him. Butler remains the starter for now, but with a footnote that Cook has earned a spot.
* Although it's true rebounding and second-chance opportunities killed Ohio State against Iowa State (the Buckeyes ended up winning the rebounding battle 30-29, although that number doesn't tell the first half tale), it was the number of defensive lapses Ohio State had in locating shooters that really did them in. Iowa State clearly did not want to attempt shots from inside when Greg Oden was roaming the paint, but the Cyclones did a great job of using 6-10 Cory Johnson to draw him away from the basket. Further, they often penetrated and then returned the ball to the perimeter where Ohio State's help defense was slow in finding their man. This led to no fewer than half a dozen open looks by Iowa State.
* The reported groin injury of Matt Terwilliger seemingly has been the cause of him playing so few minutes over the last two games. Against Iowa State, Terwilliger saw just three minutes of action. Ohio State needs a healthy Terwilliger Saturday against Florida. The Buckeyes need to shut down Joakim Noah by committee, and Terwilliger's ability to guard the perimeter and versatile big men (such as Noah) with relative success will be needed. It's also important in case Ohio State finds themselves in foul trouble against Noah and Al Horford (who is questionable with an ankle injury).
* Over the course of the last few games, Ohio State continues to struggle (relative to earlier in the season) from behind the arc. According to Thad Matta, they had their worst shootaround all season, so the 37 percent from three-point range against Iowa State was not surrprising. Still, Ohio State is still adjusting to perimeter ball-movement and choosing when to penetrate with having a 7-1 center clog the middle and demand a number of touches.
* Spacing is going to be a big key emphasized in practice by Matta to his Ohio State team the rest of the season. Since Oden's return, it's felt that in the offensive sets, his players are not spread far enough apart on screens and during the motion. There was at least two times in the second half of Cincinnati and several times early in the game against Iowa State where Ohio State was overloading one side of the basket, but instead of having one player on the opposite wing (where he belonged), he was closer to the elbow. This type of cluttering is contributing in many sets to having little room to penetrate and it's also making life easier on the defense to react to passes when they have less space to cover. Expect Ohio State's offense to start hitting on more cylinders in the coming weeks as spacing improves.
* Cook's 21 points were a blessing for Ohio State, who badly needed a hero. When the game was on the line, it was Cook's fantastic mid-range game that took over. Cook mastered the turn-around bank shot, took the ball to the basket and hit some key three-pointers fueling Ohio State's two second-half spurts.
* Early in the second half, Ohio State successfully established Oden as a low-post presence. That committed philosophy to get him the ball and loosen up Iowa State's perimeter defense set the tone the rest of the game. Tuesday was also Oden's most aggressive offensive performance in four games thus far.
* I was much critical of Ron Lewis' first-half performance, but to his credit, he stepped up with 7 points in the second half and made some key plays late in the game.
* Penetration, especially by Mike Conley, really took over the game for Ohio State in the second half. The Buckeyes were getting to the rim and consequently, getting to the charity stripe because of penetration. Much of Ohio State's success was because of Conley, Cook and Lewis breaking down their defenders.
For the first time in a while, I saw more trouble spots for Ohio State than bright spots. Ironically, Ohio State was rather sound on the offensive end statistically speaking, but there's no disputing the offense has taken a step back as a whole since the return of Oden.
Make no mistake about it, he makes Ohio State a better team. Further, he adds another dimension to the Buckeyes when opposing coaches are game-planning against them. Sooner or later (my hunch is sooner), you're going to see a crisp offensive flow that involves high-low, inside-outside, pick-and-rolls, good ball movement and proper spacing.
Might that time be Saturday?
The Gators and Buckeyes will play one another ranked No. 3 and No. 4 nationally. Florida's health is in question with Corey Brewer not 100 percent because of his battle against mono. He will play Saturday, although Horford's return from an ankle injury is in question. Should Horford be able to go, he too will not be completely healthy.
Ohio State needs a complete offensive (and defensive) game on Saturday. Which Buckeye team shows up - the one that was unable for 35 mintues to put the nails in the coffin against Iowa State or the one that couldn't miss in the first half against North Carolina?