Not only did the victory both help establish the Buckeyes as a team on the positive side of the bubble and end a stretch where they had lost four out of five games, but it was a contest that saw seldom-used guard Walter Offutt contribute a season-high 16 minutes in the win.
Although his impact on the stat sheet was minimal – two points and one assist – the game was a significant step forward for the freshman from Indianapolis Warren Central.
"It felt good because if you go back to the time I was hurt, my first real full game was December 2, (2007) when I tore my ACL," he said. "It felt good to be on the court and to compete and be with my teammates."
As a sophomore, Offutt tore his left ACL. He returned as a junior and averaged 17.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.1 steals, but in his first game as a senior he suffered the same injury to his other knee and was again lost for the season.
The recovery has not gone as quickly as he had hoped, and Offutt said he is not yet back to 100 percent. However, the 6-3, 190-pound guard said he feels himself improving on a daily basis and is getting closer to being fully healthy.
"After practice I stay and get shots up," he said. "My body's fresh, my body's more fresh than anybody on the team so I think I can give the team what they need: energy, defense and whatever (head) coach (Thad) Matta wants me to do."
Although the Buckeyes have played 29 games this season, Offutt has seen action in just 17 of them. In two of those games, he saw less than one minute of action.
After seeing five minutes of action Jan. 20 at Illinois, Offutt did not play the following game at home against Michigan State but returned to the lineup for less than a minute's worth of action Jan. 28 at home against Michigan.
It would be nearly a full month until he would see that much action again, as Offutt then sat out the team's next five games before playing for less than a minute Feb. 22 at home against Illinois. His 16 minutes of action against the Hawkeyes was more than he had seen in his previous six appearances combined.
Early on, Offutt saw action in just two of the team's first seven games of the season. In addition to the fact that he was still recovering from his most recent injury, Offutt was the victim of a numbers game. The loss of forward David Lighty for the season after the seventh game forced Evan Turner to move down low from his guard spot, and the transfer of Anthony Crater after the tenth game further thinned the ranks in the backcourt.
After the Lighty injury, Offutt saw at least minimal action in the team's next eight consecutive games and played 10 or more minutes in two of those games. The next game was a road affair against Michigan where he did not play and the following game was his five-minute affair at Illinois.
Prior to the March 3 game against Iowa, Matta said he was still searching for consistency across the board from his players but did not offer up a reason as to why Offutt had not seen more game action.
"In regards to Walter, I'm very, very pleased with the progress he's making," he said. "We've been getting him a few more minutes here and there and hopefully he's going to be able to continue doing that for us."
Later that day, Matta praised the development Offutt has shown – albeit behind the scenes in practice.
"I think right now Walter is playing the best basketball that he's ever played here," the coach said prior to the Iowa game. "He is the toughest guy we've got out there. He loves to compete."
However, his big break against the Hawkeyes was not solely due to his play in practice warranting him more playing time. Classmate William Buford was saddled with foul trouble throughout most of the game, opening the door for Offutt to see the floor.
When he is called upon, Offutt has shown flashes of the potential he showed as a standout prep player. His lone basket against the Hawkeyes came in the closing minutes and put the Buckeyes ahead 56-55 in a game they would go on to win by two points.
After he suffered his second knee injury, Offutt appeared a viable candidate to redshirt as a freshman. However, both Matta and Offutt said the decision all along was to get him into as much game action as possible this year.
The fact that he has seen a total of 86 minutes of playing time this season has not made him second-guess the decision to play, Offutt said.
"I wanted to play and be a part of this program," he said. "As we see, that was a good decision not to redshirt me because I might need some minutes to help the team win ballgames. You never know when I'll be called."