Big Ten play wasn’t supposed to be this easy for Ohio State. With a bevy of newcomers making up more than half the scholarship players on the roster, the Buckeyes have started out a perfect 3-0 in conference play after a 79-48 victory against the visiting Iowa Hawkeyes.
Everything OSU needed to demonstrate was ably done so in the first half. Seizing control with a jumper from senior forward Othello Hunter on the first possession of the game, the Buckeyes (12-3, 3-0 Big Ten) held an 18-11 lead with slightly more than 10 minutes remaining in the half. But after Iowa junior guard Tony Freeman buried a trey after teammate Seth Gorney gathered in a long offensive rebound, OSU responded with a three-pointer by sophomore swingman David Lighty that pushed the lead back to seven.
Lighty’s trey ignited a 27-3 run to close the first half that rendered the final 20 minutes almost meaningless when it came to the final outcome.
“It was just exciting for us,” Lighty said. “We were into the game, having fun like we’re always doing. I think it was our defense that got our offense going. Pressuring the ball, getting rebounds, pushing the ball up the court.”
The Buckeyes had a little bit of everything during the run. There was a high-flying dunk from freshman guard Evan Turner that came on a miss from senior guard Jamar Butler that made it 27-14 OSU. There was a dunk from senior Matt Terwilliger following a nifty pass from Butler that found the 6-9 forward streaking to the basket putting OSU up 31-14. There was an athletic drive by Hunter that saw him give a head fake to Iowa’s J.R. Angle near the three-point line, drive right past him and throw down a one-handed dunk to make it 41-17.
In contrast, Iowa (7-9, 0-3) could manage just a running floater by Freeman and a free throw from Gorney during the same time span.
The last time the Buckeyes defeated a Big Ten team by more points was in the first conference game of the year two seasons ago, when they beat Penn State 104-69 on Jan. 5, 2006. The 31-point margin was not their biggest win of the season though, which was a 44-point win against Presbyterian College on Dec. 15.
The Buckeyes were able to control the game in large part due to their defensive intensity. OSU forced nine turnovers and committed zero, scoring 12 points off Iowa miscues and 9 on fast breaks in the first half alone. By the end of the game, the Buckeyes had forced 15 turnovers, committed 6 and score 24 points off turnovers.
First-year Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter said he was not embarrassed by his team’s performance, but rather that it was painful to watch.
“It hurts,” he said. “I’m a fairly competitive guy. This is your job and you want to do it well. This is the test and we didn’t want to pass. Embarrassing? I don’t know. Painful? Yeah, it hurts.”
With the lead at 56-21 at the 15:21 mark of the second half, Matta elected to sit his regulars and empty his bench. Freshman Eric Wallace, who had seen playing time in just seven games this season, scored a season-high 10 points on 4 of 8 shooting. In his previous seven games, he had a total of 13.
Butler played a season-low 21 minutes, adding 8 points and 9 assists, the latter of which all came in the first half. He now has 20 assists in his last two games.
“The thing that I like is I feel he’s got a great command of what’s going on,” Matta said. “Just a command of the game and the tempo of what we’re trying to do. I think he’s reading things in transition a lot better than he ever has. He’s reading the pick and rolls and he’s more patient in what he’s trying to do.”
Lighty and Hunter both finished with 14 points, while Wallace led the Buckeyes with 8 rebounds. Freeman had a game-high 21 points on 9 of 19 shooting, frequently serving as the lone offensive threat for the Hawkeyes. Forward Cyrus Tate added 10 points.
With the win, OSU ran its winning streak to a season-high eight games. However, things will get more difficult as the Buckeyes hit the road beginning this Saturday for games against Purdue, Michigan State and Tennessee.