There are few teams in the country that needed a win more than Ohio State heading into its Feb. 4 showdown with No. 17 Iowa.
It wasn't easy, but the Buckeyes were able to get the job done with an impressive 76-69 victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Buckeyes had lost five of seven contests, including a home game with the Hawkeyes, and virtually dropped out of the Big Ten race. It has been a long fall from being the No. 3-ranked team in the country as recently as Jan. 12, but two straight road wins at Wisconsin and Iowa may turn the season around for OSU.
If anything it adds a little more bounce to your step. You never want to lose at home and we've been particularly pretty good over our time here at Ohio State. Anytime you lose one here, it sits with you a little bit. But we know it's going to be a different game playing great basketball. They play differently at home, with the energy that they have going there. We have to go in with the right mindset.
As for Iowa, the Hawkeyes were two games behind Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten race entering the contest against the Buckeyes. This loss may be something of a proverbial dagger to their slim conference title hopes.
With March right around the corner and Big Ten play heating up, it was a hostile crowd in Iowa. In fact, every time Craft touched the ball he was routinely booed like he was LeBron James heading back to Cleveland.
If Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors was to be believed, that wasn’t the greatest idea from an Iowa perspective:
Keep booing Aaron Craft, Iowa. You fuel his hatefire.— Jeremy Birmingham (@Birm) February 5, 2014
Craft, perhaps fueled by the crowd's reception, was the best player on the floor throughout the game and finished with 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field, six assists and an incredible six steals.
The game was close for much of the second half until a flagrant foul by the Hawkeyes' Gabe Olaseni sent Buckeyes big man Amir Williams to the line with 8:50 left. Williams' two free throws sparked an 8-2 OSU run, leading to a nine-point lead for the Buckeyes with 6:18 on the clock, effectively putting the game away.
Let’s dig into some individual grades from the Buckeyes' critical Big Ten victory over Iowa.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State: A
The only way to pick up victories on the road in the treacherous Big Ten is to get excellent performances from your star players.
While the crowd was on Craft from the get-go, the senior is certainly used to it at this point. He played incredibly in the first half with 14 points and four steals on an impressive 5-of-5 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 from behind the arc.
In the second half he wasn't as productive, but he provided critical defense against the likes of Roy Devyn Marble, who destroyed the Buckeyes in the last meeting. He also gave Ohio State important leadership with the ball in his hands in the final minutes and converted a three-point play with just over a minute left that closed the door for good on the Hawkeyes.
If the Buckeyes are going to continue their recent resurgence, Craft is the key piece.
After the game Craft talked about the importance of the win via the Associated Press:
"It's huge, and it's not big because people were doubting us or people aren't behind us anymore. This is just big for us. If there's anything that we've learned from this year is that it doesn't matter about anything that is said outside of our locker room."
Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa: C
In the first showdown between Ohio State and Iowa in Columbus, Marble put together one of the best individual performances of his season, and arguably his career.
He poured in 22 points, grabbed four rebounds, dished out three assists, tallied three steals and swatted two shots. Marble was instrumental in leading the Hawkeyes back from a late deficit on the road.
Craft made sure that didn't happen again in the rematch.
Marble finished with 10 points on only 4-of-11 shooting from the field and 0-of-3 shooting from behind the three-point line. He was far from the player that showed up in the first meeting and even turned the ball over four times.
Anytime Iowa's best player struggles it will be hard-pressed to win against elite competition, as we saw in this game.
LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State: B -
There may not be a more frustrating player from an Ohio State perspective than LaQuinton Ross.
He is arguably the most talented player on the roster, but far too often he makes critical mistakes with turnovers and mental errors. His upside and flaws were both on display during the game with Iowa.
Ross finished with 13 points but only shot 4-of-11 from the field. He forced the issue far too often off the dribble and found himself running into a wall of Hawkeye defenders a number of times.
Still, the Buckeyes won the game and Ross deserves credit for his part. He was critical on the boards and provided solid defense, which isn't always his strong point. He also turned the ball over only twice.
Ohio State returns home to Columbus after a difficult two-game road trek to Wisconsin and Iowa.
If both teams make it, who will go further in the NCAA tournament?
The Buckeyes host Purdue on Feb. 8 and then take on archrival Michigan on Feb. 11. With four of the next five contests in Columbus, Ohio State has a chance to rack up some victories heading into March.
As for Iowa, the Hawkeyes host Michigan on Feb. 8 and go to Penn State on Feb. 15. There is a much-needed week of rest in between the contests with the Wolverines and Nittany Lions before the stretch run of the season.
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