Rapp Around: Bombing Of Iowa Changes Outlook

By Jeff Rapp, February 26th, 2019

After the Ohio State men’s basketball team fell into a 16-point hole at Maryland, rallied to save face then ended up dropping a 72-62 decision, I rankled some Twitter followers by suggesting this cracked group of Buckeyes might be better off in the NIT.

After all, this young and often frustrating group probably needed to play more games and learn how to coalesce in a winnable, low-pressure environment, not come up noticeably short against a 5- or 6-seed in the Big Dance, I thought.

That was Saturday. The outlook has brightened quite a bit since then thanks to a head-turning 90-70 win over visiting Iowa on No. 22 Tuesday night that included, of all things, a 29-point explosion from freshman guard Justin Ahrens.

When Chris Holtmann was T’ed up after mouthing his displeasure over a pair of quick touch fouls on big man Kaleb Wesson, OSU’s 22-18 lead quickly turned into a 31-25 deficit and the here-we-go-again groans returned to the Schottenstein Center.

However, what followed was perhaps the most thrilling and entertaining stretch of basketball the Buckeyes (18-10, 8-9 in the Big Ten) have logged all season, leading to the team’s first win of the season over a ranked opponent.

It’s amazing how your world can open up when you play a team that isn’t particularly disruptive on defense, don’t throw the ball all over the gym, make timely plays, score the ball late in the shot clock and – gasp – actually make good on your free-throw attempts. The Buckeyes did all that in addition to the Ahrens side show, which alone was worth the price of admission.

The win over Iowa (21-7, 10-7) proved OSU could indeed take down and even dismantle a high-quality foe on a good note and, more important, undammed a flow of confidence that just might lead the Buckeyes to the renewed hope of March Madness.

The Hawkeyes still shot 47.3 percent, got 17 points from Joe Wieskamp and a solid double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) from standout forward Tyler Cook, but it wasn’t nearly enough on a night when OSU dazzled a crowd of 14,118 with the second-highest scoring output of the season, dominated the boards (36-26) and unveiled Ahrens’ impersonation of Jon Diebler.

Some more thoughts follow:

• Ahrens’ output tied for the sixth-most by an OSU freshman and accompanied a ridiculous plus-minus rating of +31 against a surefire NCAA Tournament team. The 6-5 lefty was 7 of 11 from the floor, 6 of 10 from deep and 9 of 9 at the free-throw line. His lone two-point bucket came on a breakaway and as a continuation of an intentional foul. He cashed both free throws and nearly accounted for a seven-point possession – which most likely has never happened in program history – but missed an open three on the ensuing play.

• Ahrens, who logged his second start of the campaign, had played in 12 of OSU’s previous 16 league games, scoring a total of 30 points. He had a chance to pass that figure in one night but fumbled a pass to the corner from teammate Joey Lane in the game’s final moments, causing the Buckeyes on the bench to hop up and down wondering what might have been.

• His 25 points in the second half marked the first time a Buckeye had recorded that many points in a half vs. a Big Ten team since D’Angelo Russell did so against Minnesota on Jan. 6, 2015. The last OSU frosh to reach 29 points in a game was Ja’Quan Lyle at Indiana on Jan. 10, 2016.

• The ball moved smoothly on this night, leading to relative balance behind Ahrens and even allowing the Buckeyes to score several baskets in the waning seconds of the shot clock. “That happened like four or five times,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffrey said. “And they scored 15 points four minutes into the second half. It’s hard to win games like that.”

• OSU also had several “and-1” plays including Ahrens’ “and-2” on a breakaway and flagrant foul call. Holtmann credited many of those opportunities to the activity of Wesson, who drew seven fouls and finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds. The other Buckeyes to score in double figures were guard Keyshawn Woods with 13 points, Andre Wesson with 11 and freshman Duane Washington, who scored all 10 of his points in the first half.

• Ohio State was 22 of 24 at the foul line, the only misses coming from big men Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young.

• Ohio State was whistled for just 13 fouls on the night with only C.J. Jackson reaching three fouls.

• Jackson sat out the Maryland game with an injured shoulder and did not start vs. Iowa. However, he was very effective in 34 minutes of action, earning a plus-minus of 25 while logging six points, five rebounds, six assists and just one turnover. “I thought his floor game was excellent,” Holtmann said.

• Luther Muhammad clearly has smashed into the freshman wall. He started but played only eight minutes and was 0 of 2 from the floor, both open looks on the arc. He also committed two fouls. Musa Jallow, meanwhile, had a very forgettable three minutes.

• While Muhammad and Jallow were supposed to be giving more, the Buckeyes have two shooters who are on point right now in Ahrens and Washington, which is allowing Jackson to run the show and not force too many plays. Holtmann is to be credited to the adjustments he made against Iowa’s fullcourt trap, which was a problem in Ohio State’s 72-62 loss in Iowa City. OSU had 21 turnovers in that game; 12 this time.

• Ohio State still trails Iowa all-time, 76-78 but improved to a robust 49-27 in Columbus vs. the Hawkeyes. The Buckeyes are 14-17 against ranked Iowa teams.

• The Buckeyes finish out the regular season at Purdue on Saturday (2 p.m. Eastern, ESPN), at Northwestern on March 6 (9 p.m. Eastern, Big Ten Network) and at home vs. Wisconsin on March 10 (4:30 p.m. Eastern, CBS). A 2-1 showing would get OSU to 10-10 in the league heading to the Big Ten Tournament – and most likely in very solid position for an NCAA Tournament berth. I wasn’t sure I wanted to even see that type of outlook just days ago, but after the nets got singed here on Tuesday, well, that potential result is looking much more flavorful.