IOWA CITY, Iowa — With what loosely resembled chaos unfolding on the court, Chris Holtmann stood near the Ohio State bench with his arms crossed.
The No. 16 Buckeyes were midway through the second half of a 72-62 Big Ten loss at Iowa on Saturday afternoon. A game that began with a surprising change to the starting lineup and the most liberal substitutions of the season for Ohio State was essentially out of reach, and Holtmann was watching the court with what looked like detached curiosity.
A third straight loss was looming, and Holtmann was continuing his search for leadership.
“I think it manifests itself in a lot of different ways,” he said. “A lot of it is how you respond to adverse moments in the course of a game. We just did not play very smart today. That’s disappointing, and I’ve got to do better.”
There was plenty of blame shared after the loss. Although Ohio State (12-4, 2-3) led Iowa 26-24 at halftime, it fell behind for good not even three minutes into the second half thanks to a combination of porous defense, spotty shooting and a general lack of cohesiveness.
Coming off losses to Michigan State and Rutgers, Holtmann shook up his rotation and removed C.J. Jackson from the starting lineup, snapping a stretch of 39 straight starts for the senior.
All 10 available recruited scholarship players saw significant playing time, ranging from 13 to 28 minutes, as Holtmann looked for something — anything — to revitalize his team. Freshman Justin Ahrens, who had totaled seven minutes in two previous Big Ten games, played 10 minutes and scored a career-high six points. Freshman Jaedon LeDee, who had totaled 20 minutes previously in Big Ten play, was in for 19 against the Hawkeyes.
“We’re still trying to find our identity for the most part,” Jackson said. “The biggest thing is leadership, and that strictly falls on me. I haven’t been the leader that I needed to be on this team, in practice, on the floor and in games, and that has a lot to do with our results the last couple games.”
The Buckeyes committed a season-high 21 turnovers, allowed the Hawkeyes (14-3, 3-3) to shoot 55.6 percent in the second half and were outscored 36-18 in the lane.
After Ohio State led by four points two possessions into the second half, Iowa used an 11-2 run to take a 35-30 lead with the last seven points coming from Luka Garza. It grew to a seven-point lead, but the Buckeyes cut it to four and looked set to make it a 42-40 game when Kaleb Wesson was called for a push-off to negate an easy basket at the rim.
Iowa’s Ryan Kriener scored for a four-point swing, added a dunk one possession later and the Buckeyes never seriously threatened again.
The three-game losing streak is Holtmann’s first since he was coaching at Gardner-Webb and comes after a 12-1 start to the season.
“It’s the Big Ten,” said junior forward Andre Wesson, who scored a team-high 13 points. “You’re going to have ups and downs the whole season, so we definitely knew it was coming. Now it’s just how we’re going to handle it.”