Ohio State center Jantel Lavender made two free throws with 1.9 seconds left to break a 64-all tie, then Iowa point guard Kamille Wahlin's buzzer-beating desperation 40-footer was off the mark, sending the top-seeded Buckeyes streaming onto the court in jubilation.
They had plenty of reasons to celebrate after the third-seeded Hawkeyes pushed them to the brink with an early offensive barrage as foul trouble plagued Lavender and fellow first-team All-Big Ten performer Samantha Prahalis.
Iowa (19-13) led by as many as 11 in the first half, but Ohio State freshman Tayler Hill cut that to eight with a shot from so far behind the three-point line on the left wing she probably could have turned around and exchanged a fistbump with Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder had the two been so inclined.
That sent the teams to the locker room with the score 41-33.
"I don't think we built enough of a lead at halftime, quite honestly," Bluder said. "I think we should have a bigger lead with their two guns on the bench."
Just before the start of the second half, the Iowa pep band fired up the Hawkeye contingent behind the Iowa bench with a rendition of "The Imperial March" from the Star Wars movie series, but that might have provided a kind of foreshadowing the Black and Gold would have preferred to avoid with the six-time Big Ten champions on the other bench.
The empire struck back, but not after a couple of more tense moments.
The second half began disastrously for the Buckeyes as Iowa forward Kachine Alexander intercepted an entry pass from Prahalis intended for Lavender then drew Prahalis' third foul by leaning into her in the open floor 45 feet from the basket.
Wahlin and Krei compounded the Buckeyes' troubles with a pair of three-pointers, and two Alexander free throws swelled the Iowa advantage to 49-33 with 18:25 yet to play.
With her frustration about the bubble over because of several calls and no-calls she seemed to feel should have gone her way, Prahalis went to the bench with 17:12 on the clock and the Buckeyes looking to be in serious trouble.
"I mean, I was looking at the scoreboard (and thought), ‘This is unbelievable,'" Lavender said. "Something has to change. We have to get tough defensively. We have to get tough offensively and just start playing."
That they did, in no small part because of the return of a calmer, more effective Prahalis.
Iowa led 51-37 when she returned to the game two minutes later, but the sophomore quickly went to work to cut into the deficit.
She drove to the basket and drew Alexander's third foul then hit a pair of free throws to kick off a 10-0 Ohio State spurt that she capped with a fast-break layup that made it 51-47 with 10:17 left.
The Hawkeyes countered with back-to-back threes by Wahlin and Kelly Krei sandwiched around a Hill layup, but by then the Buckeyes were building momentum.
They finally caught Iowa just before the five-minute mark when Prahalis sliced through the defense for a daring layup that knotted the score at 60, setting up a tense finish in front of 6,832 at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Lavender and Wahlin took turns hitting both ends of one-and-one free throw situations then Iowa freshman Jamie Printy put Iowa ahead 64-62 with a layup off a backdoor cut with 2:35 left.
Hill failed to tie the score again with a driving layup attempt, but Lavender was there to follow her miss with a basket as the clock showed 80 seconds remaining in the contest.
Iowa had a couple of chances to go in front on its ensuing possession, but the last trickled out of bounds off Wahlin after Ohio State forward Sarah Schulze stepped up to block her path to the basket.
That put the ball back into the hands of Prahalis, who found Lavender camped on the low block with Iowa's Gabby Machado on her back.
Machado, an undersized freshman post defender at 6-0 tall, had been a thorn in Lavender's side throughout the contest, but this meeting would go the way of the Buckeyes' star.
"I just wanted to turn strong and I got fouled," Lavender said. "And I went to the foul line and I just took my time, took deep breaths and did what I did all night."
She was 7 for 7 from the free throw line, and the last pair of freebies capped a 35-point night for Lavender, the junior who has been named the conference's top performer after the last three regular seasons and the most outstanding player of consecutive conference tournaments.
That left little doubt about where Ohio State head coach Jim Foster wanted to the ball to go after he called timeout with 13 seconds on the clock.
"If you've got a first-team All-American, you throw them the ball," he said. "If you're lucid."
Lavender broke the record for points in a Big Ten tournament final.
For her part, Bluder looked like the coach of a beaten-but-unbowed squad.
"Congratulate Ohio State on their victory today," she said. "Great team. Jantel Lavender is the player of the year for a reason, and she showed it tonight with her excellent play. I feel bad for my team. I feel like we played hard. We didn't get the victory, and it's hurts right now, but I think we'll bounce back and be ready for the tournament."
Wallin led Iowa with 20 points while Krei added 18 and Alexander 13. All three were named to the all-tournament team, as were Lavender and Prahalis.