When Iowa handed Ohio State its third conference loss of the season on Saturday evening, it was able to do so in most part thanks to the shooting performance of senior guard Justin Johnson. His 8 for 13 performance from beyond the three-point arc gave the Hawkeyes enough firepower to defeat a cold-shooting OSU team that needed a win to stay within one game of the conference leaders.
But as the Buckeyes prepare to host Michigan on Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN), the reasons as to why Johnson was able to get so many good looks at the basket remain elusive for head coach Thad Matta and his team.
"Every loss is frustrating to me, (but) it was a little bit more frustrating," sophomore swingman David Lighty said. "I just couldn't quite figure out what happened, what went wrong. We played hard. Things just didn't go our way. That's how the game is sometimes."
Although the Buckeyes had plenty of opportunities to pull even or take the lead late in the game, Iowa held the upper hand for the entirety of the second half. Still, the 53 points the Hawkeyes scored was the lowest point total allowed by the Buckeyes since the last time they played Iowa when they won, 79-48, in a game described by Matta as a veritable perfect storm for the Hawkeyes.
Matta criticized his team's defense immediately after the game but said has since softened in the assessment of his charges.
"We made some mistakes, but we always do," he said. "Iowa was knocking shots down. It was a situation where we could've done some things better defensively but our biggest thing was that we had great looks that did not go down."
In addition, Matta said he felt his team played "tight" down the stretch against the Hawkeyes.
In all, then, it seems as if the problem simply came down to OSU's inability to connect from the floor and especially from beyond the arc. The Buckeyes were a dreadful 3 for 21 from beyond the three-point arc and missed their final 10 treys during the contest.
So why was senior guard Jamar Butler so angry following the loss?
Following the loss, Butler ripped into his teammates, and although Matta urged caution when quoting an athlete in the immediate aftermath of an emotional game, his words seemed especially poignant in the days after the game.
"I'm just going to start going at guys and tell them how it is," Butler said. "If they want to play in March they better pick their games up. That's all I can say.
"Last year's team it never would have happened, I can tell you that. Guys were mentally ready to go night in and night out. I guess it was just more important to us last year."
Stirring words from the team's senior co-captain who is playing a team-high 35.6 minutes per game and also serves as the primary ballhandler and leading scorer.
According to Matta, Butler himself was a different player when the team practiced on Sunday.
"Jamar had a phenomenal practice (Sunday) and was probably more vocal than I've seen him at a practice, which I thought was awesome," Matta said. "His interaction with his teammates was tremendous and we need that from Jamar."
Lighty said he noticed an extra spark from his teammates.
"I saw a lot of plays in practice that put me in awe from a couple of players," he said. "It's something that caught everybody's attention considering that we've got to be focused and be ready to play all the time."
Although Lighty even cautioned that it was just one day of practice, it turns out that a lot of good could come out of one outburst from the normally reserved Butler. With nine conference games remaining, the Buckeyes still could make a run at a third consecutive Big Ten championship. Each of the four teams left on OSU's schedule still have trips on the docket to Value City Arena.
But just a chance to be in the running for a title does not assuage the feeling left behind thanks to suffering a loss the Buckeyes feel they should not have suffered. But if the Buckeyes do, in fact, turn things around and make a run in March, they might have the Hawkeyes to thank.
Even if they still are wondering what the heck happened in that game.