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COLUMBUS, Ohio — How good would the Iowa men's basketball team be if it simply played adequate defense, we wondered.
Outside of the second half against Michigan last Thursday, the No. 9 Hawkeyes' 'D' has been A-OK for the last seven games, five of them victories. But never has that defense been as good this season as it was in its 73-57 win over No. 4 Ohio State Sunday at Value City Arena.
It was more like airtight than adequate. Batting away entry passes, forcing 30-second calls, drawing offensive fouls, and just gumming up the works in general for a typically explosive OSU offense — this was a defensive gem.
'Knowing what we've done the past few games defensively,' Iowa senior guard Jordan Bohannon said, 'it has kind of raised our standard, realizing we can be a really great defensive team.
'I think the fact we've played a little more man has given us a lot of confidence. I think our man defense has been phenomenal lately.'
'You look at certain things,' Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said about Sunday's performance. 'Only two (Ohio State) offensive rebounds, zero in the second half … we were 6 for 6 in 50/50 balls.
'That, I think, is indicative of a team locked in to what they need to do based on scouting report information. That's a really good team we just beat.'
Iowa improved to 18-7 overall, 12-6 in the Big Ten and climbed over the Buckeyes (18-7, 12-7) into sole possession of third place, a half-game ahead of 11-6 Purdue. It was the kind of win that earns a lot of brownie points for seeding purposes by the NCAA tournament committee, and makes it a lot easier to get a top-four finish in the league standings and advance directly to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.
Iowa's first taste of life without backup center Jack Nunge to a season-ending knee injury wasn't sour. Fran McCaffery used a season-low eight players, but the three who did come off the bench were vital.
Freshman forward Keegan Murray played terrific defense on OSU star E.J. Liddell in the second half. Liddell had just two of his 15 points after halftime. Freshman forward Patrick McCaffery had back-to-back first-half scores when Iowa went on a 13-4 run.
Sophomore point guard Joe Toussaint had his best game of the season with 14 under-control minutes. He piled up seven assists, broke down Ohio State's defense, and played stellar defense himself.
'Joe T.'s a warrior and he's a hell of a player,' said Iowa center Luka Garza, who could have said the same about himself after a 24-point, 11-rebound game.
'He played with great pace,' McCaffery said. 'When he does, he impacts the game the way he did today.'
It perhaps was fitting Bohannon broke Iowa's career assists record in a game in which his team not only won, but had 19 assists to a puny five turnovers. Bohannon's five dimes got him to 615, three more than Jeff Horner.
'I'm truly blessed to be in the position I've been in,' Bohannon said. 'Coach McCaffery gave me a chance. Not a lot of people in the country thought I could ever play at this level.'
Iowa led 42-28 at halftime, but OSU opened the second half with a 14-2 blitz to cut the gap to 44-42. Here we go again? No, nothing of the sort.
'We did a really good job of just kind of extending it from that point,' Wieskamp said.
Garza scored, Wieskamp hit a 3-pointer, Garza scored again, and it was 51-42. The Buckeyes followed with a 5-0 run, but CJ Fredrick sank a 3-pointer and the Hawkeyes were off and running for keeps, leading by 10-plus points for the last 8:41.
This was a palate-cleanser for the game at No. 3 Michigan three days earlier when Iowa trailed by just three points at halftime but lost 79-57.
'This was another great opportunity for us,' said Wieskamp, who made five 3-pointers and scored 19 points. 'The only thing you can do is focus on the next game up ahead.'
Focused, the Hawkeyes were. 'A huge, huge win for our group,' Garza said.
Iowa's next game is at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Thursday at 8 p.m. against Nebraska, with the regular-season finale Sunday in Carver against Wisconsin.
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