There was an uncanny symmetry between this game and Iowa's win on Saturday over Wisconsin. In both cases, a home team roared out to a big lead, faded dramatically down the stretch, then held on for dear life as the road team clawed their way back into the game. And if it weren't for some unusually poor free throw shooting, Iowa very well may have been able to pull off the comeback.
Since Ross already did an admirable job reviewing the game, I'll just add a couple of notes:
- It's far enough into the season to say that Iowa has some recognizable strengths and weaknesses on offense. The weaknesses are that they struggle to score in the half court and struggle to make three-pointers. Their strengths are that they get to the free throw line. A lot. Most of Iowa's offensive statistics are pretty mediocre (especially their 285th ranked three-point shooting percentage), but they do have a free throw rate that is in the top 40 nationally (free throw rate is FTM/FGA). That means that if the free throws aren't falling, a major cog in Iowa's offensive machinery breaks down. For whatever reason, the free throws weren't falling yesterday.
- One thing that has to leave fans very encouraged was the effectiveness of Iowa's pressure defense in the second half, and especially Gabe Olaseni's sterling play guarding the inbounds pass. He's still an unpolished player who can get beat one-on-one in the post (someone should tell him that it is legal for offensive players to go baseline), but he has the length and quickness to really disrupt opposing teams when they try to get the ball in.
- There was one sequence that might have seemed minor at the time, but wound up costing Iowa significantly. At the end of the first half, Iowa had the ball with about 25 seconds left. The smart play would have been to run the clock down to zero and try to get a shot as time expired. That way Iowa would have had a chance for points and Ohio State wouldn't have gotten an extra possession. As it was, Aaron White took a shot with 21 seconds left and missed, giving the Buckeyes the ball back with plenty of time for an extra possession. Through a confluence of events, Ohio State turned that possession into four points. Yes, White had position, and yes, that was probably a foul on Thomas, but holding for the last shot was still the smart play. If you assume that each team scores, on average, about a point per possession, then holding for the last shot gives your team an expected value of +1 points, while going early gives an expected value of zero points. If Iowa had held the ball, the maximum downside to those final 20 seconds would have been zero points. By taking a shot early, the downside expanded to, well, four points. And four points were crucial in this game. White is a hell of a player, but he has made some impulsive decisions down the stretch in the past few games (fouling a three-point shooter against Indiana, fouling on a layup against Wisconsin) that have been costly.
- Eric May had a very good game, providing two three-point shots and solid defense in his 21 minutes. Josh Oglesby doesn't seem to have Fran's trust on the defensive end (plus his shot hasn't been going down), so having a player in the game who can at least theoretically knock down an outside shot for Iowa is crucial.
- Melsahn Basabe played like a man possessed and dominated on the offensive and defensive glass. He is playing like Iowa's starter right now, even if he technically doesn't start the game.
- Speaking of Iowa's starting center, Adam Woodbury really struggled in this game. This is probably how it will be all season for him.
- The pressure at the end of the game clearly got to Ohio State, which was surprising. Who knows if Iowa could have kept up that intensity for 40 minutes, but it's worth remembering if they meet again in the Big Ten tournament.
- A frustrating loss, but I left the game feeling very encouraged. Iowa easily could have folded and let Ohio State cruise to a 20-point win, but they fought back and nearly stole a game on the road against a very tough ranked team. It'll take crisper execution for 40 minutes (and several more made free throws) to pull off that kind of upset, but it has to give them confidence that they were down 24 points with just 13 minutes left and managed to cut that lead down to four.