In its Big Ten opener against Iowa, the Buckeyes did things their way: that is, they played well at stretches, allowed an opposing shooter to get hot and failed to keep their foot on the gas before eventually prevailing. It wasn't always pretty, but the result was a 68-65 Buckeye win against the Hawkeyes.
Iowa's Matt Gatens willed his team back into the game with a team- and career-high 22 points while going 4 of 7 from beyond the three-point arc, but he could not come up with the equalizer when his team needed it the most.
The Buckeyes (10-1, 1-0 Big Ten) held a three-point lead in the final minute when the Hawkeyes (10-4, 0-1) brought the ball up the court. After working it around for a good shot, the ball found its way to Gatens, who got a good look at the basket with OSU's Dallas Lauderdale closing but had his attempt rim out. A scrum ensued, and OSU junior guard P.J. Hill came up with the loose ball and tipped it to teammate Jon Diebler.
Diebler passed it to Evan Turner, who threw it down the court to Lauderdale as time expired and the Buckeyes dodged a bullet in their first conference game.
"You've got to take care of your home court because playing on the road is so difficult," Diebler said.
The sophomore guard finished with a career-high 27 points on 7-of-10 three-point shooting. Nineteen of those points came in the second half and a number of them stemmed Iowa runs.
"Honestly guys just set great screens for me and I was shooting open shots," Diebler said. "What also helped was when guys like Evan and (William Buford) are penetrating and getting to the basket it opens things up."
While Diebler was filling out the stat sheet, it was Hill who found himself playing a key role in the game. After seeing limited action this season while playing behind both Jeremie Simmons and Anthony Crater at the point, Crater's decision to transfer out of the program meant a bigger role for Hill.
He made the most of his 12 minutes of action, dishing out four assists, taking one charge and handing out one monstrous block that brought the crowd of 14,946 to its feet.
With OSU ahead 57-56, a missed jumper by Turner led to a fast break going the other way. But as the 6-4 Jermain Davis tried to convert a lay-up, Hill – who is generously listed at 6-1 – wound up and swatted his shot, allowing OSU to regain possession.
"I just wanted to come in and bring energy and affect the game in a positive way," Hill said. "I know I can really turn it up on defense so I felt like the time was perfect for me to get the opportunity to turn it up. The opportunity presented itself and I took advantage."
His performance earned him a bear hug from head coach Thad Matta.
"The energy he brought was off the charts," Matta said. "I couldn't be happier for P.J. He wanted this and made the most of it. I thought he was just a tremendous boost today."
That boost was nearly not enough to help the Buckeyes earn the victory, however. Iowa was one three-pointer shy of tying the school record for most treys in a game and finished 14 of 28 (50.0 percent) from deep against OSU's swarming 3-2 zone defense.
The majority of those looks were of the wide-open variety. Both Matta and Diebler expressed their concerns with the state of the Buckeye defense
Asked if he ever considers switching out of the zone to play man-to-man defense, Matta said, "We do, but I'll be honest with you: we let our guard down. They're going to shoot a lot of threes and we lost them. A lot of those threes came with mental mistakes that we let our guard down and didn't do what we were supposed to do.
"There's not a lot of teams in the country that are going to shoot as many threes as Iowa did at the percentage they shoot at."
Although OSU's first-half lead stretched as high as 15 points, the Hawkeyes fought their way back into the game. A personal 8-0 run by Gatens made it 30-26 Buckeyes with 2:40 remaining, and it was a 36-28 OSU lead at the half.
Iowa's first six field goals of the contest were three pointers. The Hawkeyes did not score inside the arc until a Gatens jumper with 3:55 remaining. To that point, Iowa was 6 of 13 from deep and 0 for 5 from close.
Buford had 16 points for the Buckeyes, but just two in the second half, while Turner added 11. Playing out of position at the power forward spot with teammate David Lighty relegated to the bench due to injury, Turner sported a brace under his jersey to help protect himself from the physicality of playing in the post.