Looks can be deceiving.
As it turned out, Ohio State was forced to hold onto what turned to be a closer-than-expected 72-63 win over Iowa in Value City Arena on Tuesday evening.
Deshaun Thomas scored 16 points, Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith both posted 12, Evan Ravenel had 11 and Amir Williams posted a career-high six blocks for a Buckeyes (14-4, 4-2 Big Ten) team fighting to remain in good positioning in the conference race.
"I do think in the league we're in right now, you take your wins and semi-celebrate them," OSU head coach Thad Matta said. "On the same token, you have to look at things and say, ‘How do we get better?' "
With Ohio State up 53-29 with less than 13 minutes remaining, it looked to be over. But Iowa – a team that has already become accustomed to playing closely contested games with the teams perceived to be the best in the Big Ten – slowly chipped away at the Ohio State lead before clawing with four with 1:29 remaining in the game.
Iowa big man Aaron White, who led the Hawkeyes (13-6, 2-4) with 13 points, had a chance to make it a one-possession by making two free throws, but he missed one attempt. Ohio State held onto the lead from there.
"They were up by 24 with a substantial amount of time left," Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. "A lot of times, teams don't have the maturity or the patience to try to chip away – but that's what we did."
Iowa's comeback was sparked by McCaffery's decision to go to a full-court press with his team down by 22 with 11:31 left in the game. Iowa forced turnovers on consecutive possessions that sparked a 7-0 run to cut OSU's lead to 15 at 53-38 with 9:42 remaining.
From that point, Iowa knocked down a trio of three-pointers in the next six minutes and that spurt helped the Hawkeyes go on to score 21 of the next 31 points to cut Ohio State's lead to four. The Buckeyes, however, scored nine of the final 15 points to hold on.
"A win is a win in conference play," said point guard Aaron Craft, who passed Jay Burson to set the Ohio State all-time steals record at 205 with a theft early in the first half. "That was a big win for us to try to keep us in the hunt. We still have a lot of basketball to play. We've got to protect home court and yes, we didn't do it in the prettiest way, but we got the win."
Ohio State trailed 13-12 early in the game in large part to Iowa's prolific offensive rebounding, but a three-point basket by sophomore LaQuinton Ross sparked a 7-0 that was capped by a bucket from Ravenel, putting the Buckeyes ahead 19-13.
Iowa hung around from that point and only faced a five-point deficit at 25-20 with 3:27 remaining in the half, but the Buckeyes took charge heading into the locker room.
Ravenel made a bucket and drew a foul, then missed a free throw that was rebounded by Smith and put back – a four-point play to close the first half that helped the Buckeyes extend their advantage to 12 at the break.
Ohio State seemed primed to put the game away early in the second half. Thomas – who missed some time later in the game with a cut above his right eye – scored seven of his points during a 19-7 run to start the second half to open up OSU's 24-point lead.
In the end, however, Iowa fought back to make it close.
"We just started not executing our offense and they were making a lot of shots, a lot of plays," Craft said. "You've got to find a way to make plays at the end." ?