There were no late-game heroics necessary this time.
No. 13 Ohio State expanded a five-point halftime lead against visiting Iowa to double digits less than four minutes into the second half and held on from there, earning a 68-59 victory against the Hawkeyes.
The win marked OSU’s seventh in its last eight games and its seventh straight within the Big Ten. It also pulled the Buckeyes (18-6, 8-3 Big Ten) to within a game of conference leader Michigan State, which lost a road game at Illinois the night before. OSU now sits second in a three-way tie with Wisconsin and Illinois.
“It’s wide open and that’s why you really have to take care of business on your home court,” junior guard Jon Diebler said. “It wasn’t the prettiest game, but we won.”
The last time these two teams played, the Buckeyes needed to rally from a seven-point deficit during the back half of the second period. This time, a 9-2 run to open the second half increased OSU’s five-point halftime lead to 41-29 with 16:38 remaining and rendered the rest of the game largely academic.
Junior guard Evan Turner tied a career high with 32 points on 12 for 22 shooting. It was the most field-goal attempts he had in his OSU career. Perhaps most importantly, he committed zero turnovers while playing all 40 minutes.
“It’s not unique to us what happened,” Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter said. “(Turner) is tough to contain. I’m going to state the obvious here, but when he was out they were a good team but when he came back it was elevated to one of the best in the nation.”
At times, Turner appeared to score at will. He moved to 26th on OSU's all-time scoring list with 1,239 points, passing John Havlicek and Larry Siegfried.
“It’s cool to see the ball go through the net,” he said. “For a moment you feel unstoppable. You feel like you can do almost anything. You’re attacking and not being attacked and that’s good in anything you do. Any time you can be the aggressor that’s a good thing.”
Just one other Buckeye scored in double figures, as Diebler had 12 points and added three steals.
OSU led 32-27 at the half but seized control in the early going of the second half. Starting with a jumper by Turner on the first possession, the Buckeyes put together a 9-2 run capped by a three-pointer from Diebler at the 16:38 mark that forced the Hawkeyes (8-16, 2-9) to call timeout.
The run also featured a play that fired up Turner. The junior deflected a pass in the backcourt with his team leading 36-29 and had open court ahead, but Iowa’s Aaron Fuller grabbed onto him and was whistled for a foul.
The look on Turner’s face changed, and his scoring picked up from there. After putting up 14 points to that point, he connected on a jumper on the ensuing possession and scored his final 18 points in the final 16:38 of the contest.
“I think definitely it does (fire the team up),” Turner said of the steal. “Getting a defensive stop like that picks us up. I was trying to get a little adrenaline and emotion for my team to finish the game off. We were getting grabbed the whole game.”
OSU’s defensive pressure proved to be too much for Iowa to handle. The Hawkeyes committed twice as many turnovers – 14 to 7 – as the Buckeyes, which the home team turned into 20 points.
The Buckeyes used a few athletic plays to head into the half with a five-point lead. Iowa had cut it to 26-24 on a three-pointer from Matt Gatens with 3:45 remaining, a basket that made the Hawkeyes 6 for their last 7.
The teams traded foul shots – a pair from Buford and one from Iowa’s Brennan Cougill – to set the score at 28-25 when the Hawkeyes had a chance to cut it to at worst a one-point deficit. But with Iowa’s Cully Payne flying in for a dunk from the left side of the basket, OSU’s David Lighty caught him from behind, rejected the shot attempt and brought the crowd to its collective feet.
The ball went out of bounds, but Turner came up with a steal on the ensuing possession and began pushing it up the court. Drawing the lone defender to himself, Turner then dished off to a streaking Buford who caught the pass and threw down a powerful, one-handed dunk that made it 30-25 with 58 seconds left.
The teams would trade field goals, with OSU senior center Kyle Madsen’s baseline jumper in the final seconds setting the score at the break. It their previous final 20 minutes against cellar-dweller Penn State and the first 20 minutes against the next-to-last Hawkeyes, the Buckeyes had outscored their opposition by a combined six points.
The Buckeyes were outshot in the first half but made up for it on the defensive end. Iowa was 11 for 21 (52.4 percent) compared to 12 for 25 (48.0 percent) for the Buckeyes, but the home team turned nine Hawkeye turnovers into 13 first-half points. Conversely, Iowa had two points off of three OSU turnovers. In addition, the visitors were 4 for 5 from three (80.0 percent) while the Buckeyes were 1 for 7 (14.3 percent).
In the locker room, OSU head coach Thad Matta said he challenged his players to execute better in the second half.
“It was more just, ‘Let’s make sure that we’re ready to play and execute,’ ” he said. A couple things we did defensively in the second half helped us. It was more, ‘Hey fellas, a week and a half ago we were down five at halftime (at Iowa). Let’s come out here and be ready to go.’ ”
Madsen was the only reserve to see action. He played a career-high total of 22 minutes as starting center Dallas Lauderdale battled foul trouble, picking up his fourth foul with 17:41 remaining in the game. Madsen had four points and four boards, while Lauderdale had two blocks and one rebound. He did not attempt a shot.
Matta said senior guard Jeremie Simmons is still being bothered by a nerve issue that has prevented him from having complete closure of his eye but added that he was available too play. Senior guard P.J. Hill was a healthy scratch.