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Buckeyes survive blizzard, then unleash flurry of threes in win at Iowa

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell dribbles as Iowa forward Keegan Murray defends during a game Thursday, Feb. 4, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The groundwork for an unforgettable day was laid hours before No. 7 Ohio State arrived at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday night.

When the Buckeyes left the arena earlier that day, a blizzard that canceled flights and buried roads left their bus stuck on the drive from the shoot-around to the hotel. When it came time to return for their top-10 showdown against No. 8 Iowa, Ohio State got a special escort — not by police, but by snowplow.

They would unleash their own flurry late. In a game that was tied with roughly five minutes to play, the Buckeyes (15-4, 9-4 Big Ten) hit four straight three-pointers to take control in what would be an 89-85 win against the Hawkeyes (13-5, 7-4).

"I’m sure that was a fun game to watch," coach Chris Holtmann said. "It was a fun game to be a part of. Not as much when we were down 11, but we have an incredibly resilient bunch, as much as any group I’ve coached."

Ohio State men's basketball:E.J. Liddell inspires those back home in southern Illinois while winning with the Buckeyes

Justin Ahrens, who had been scoreless to that point, got it started with back-to-back threes. Kyle Young added the third, and Ahrens finished the barrage with his third to give Ohio State an 88-81 lead with three minutes to play.

It marked a dramatic turn of events. When Luka Garza stepped into an open three-pointer from the top of the circle and swished it for an 11-point Iowa lead with 14:29 to play, the nation’s top-rated offense looked well on its way to a 10th straight home win against a ranked opponent.

Instead, the Buckeyes came roaring back in short order. Freshman Zed Key got things started with a free throw, and junior guard Duane Washington Jr. showed no ill effects from a rough first half by hitting consecutive three-pointers from the same spot along the left wing. It injected Ohio State with some momentum as the game seemed to be slipping away, and from there the Buckeyes would claw back into it.

Ohio State would take its first second-half lead with 10:17 left when Young made it a 67-66 game on a basket in the paint. That capped a 17-5 run, turning the 11-point deficit into a one-point lead and setting up a dramatic finish.

"My team, I love my team, man," Washington said. "I love them to death. This journey has been so great. I can’t express it enough, how much they mean to me and how much we’ve grown together a unit."

Ohio State men's basketball:Photos: No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes beat No. 8 Iowa Hawkeyes, 89-85

Washington, Young and E.J. Liddell all had 16 points to lead the Buckeyes. Garza, who was honored pregame for scoring his 2,000th point last time out, was limited to 16 points on 13 shots.

"We wanted to key in and we had to play the best post defense we played all year in this game but obviously we didn’t want to forget about everyone else," Young said of defending Garza. "It was a full team defensive effort." 

The game marked the first top-10 showdown between these teams since No. 1 Ohio State beat No. 9 Iowa 62-61 in Iowa on February 18, 1961. The teams entered the night with the all-time series tied at 81.

Ohio State has now won four straight and seven of its last eight. It is the first team to earn five wins against ranked teams this season, and it has won four road games against top-15 teams.

The Buckeyes took an early lead and, after scoring on five straight possessions, pushed it to eight points at 20-12. Of those five possessions, three of them were finished by Key, who went right at Garza on two of them.

Iowa would answer in a hurry. As Jordan Bohannon launched a three-pointer, Ohio State’s Seth Towns was called for a foul away from the shot. The basket was good, Iowa kept possession and Patrick McCaffery scored on an inbounds play for a five-point possession. Jack Nunge then scored on a put-back, and two possessions later he hit a three-pointer for a 10-point run. It was the 20th run of at least 10 points for the Hawkeyes this season.

Total time elapsed: 69 seconds.

That gave the Hawkeyes a 22-20 lead, and they would lead by as many as five during the first half while taking a 45-42 lead into the break aided in part by a significant foul discrepancy. Iowa was 6 of 10 from the line thanks to nine fouls called on the Buckeyes, who in turn made their only two free-throw attempts in the half on three Iowa fouls. Liddell, CJ Walker and Key each had two first-half fouls.

Freshman guard Meechie Johnson Jr. helped keep things going in Walker’s first-half absence. After scoring two points in the last four games while only attempting five shots, Johnson hit consecutive first-half three-pointers, the second of which was from several feet behind the line and gave the Buckeyes a 40-39 lead.

The win makes Ohio State a legitimate candidate to be a top-5 team come Monday's rankings.

"We are who we are," Washington said. "I think that’s the message that I can say to the public. We’re not going to stop being us.We’re going to shock all the guys who thought we were going to be whatever we were going to be in the Big Ten."

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy