Buckeyes bonded over bus incident, then beat Hawkeyes to keep season rolling

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State forward Justin Ahrens (10) celebrates with Eugene Brown and his teammates after the Buckeyes' 89-85 victory at Iowa on Thursday.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — There they were, stuck at the bottom of a hill and in need of rescue.

A few hours before the Ohio State men's basketball team was set to face Iowa, the Buckeyes were trying to return to their hotel following their morning shootaround at Carver-Hawkeye Arena when winter weather got the best of them.

A blizzard that grounded air traffic and closed major highways had ensnared the OSU bus, and it would take some time before workers from the University of Iowa were able to help shovel them out.

Ohio State basketball:Notes: OSU's prior loss at Iowa fueled Justin Ahrens, Duane Washington this time around

Facing a delay of unknown length, the No. 7 Buckeyes easily could have retreated to their phones, browsing social media, texting with friends back home or trying to squeeze in another episode of a television series. Instead, what took place not only kept the team engaged, but in some small way helped propel them to an 89-85 win against the No. 8 Hawkeyes later that evening.

With Duane Washington Jr. holding court as emcee, the debates began. Who’s the best shooting guard in the NBA? Who’s the best point guard of all-time?

It was a spirited discussion — and another reminder of the bonds that hold this team together as it ascends to a spot on the national stage.

“At first we were like, ‘Damn, this sucks,’ but we just had to find a way to make the time pass by so we started talking about anything and everything,” junior Justin Ahrens told The Dispatch.

“Especially in games where we go through a rough patch when we can’t score or we can’t get a few stops, it’s the same guys you’re looking at eye-to-eye on the bus when we’re stuck or going through a tough time on the court. You know your brother has your back.”

Washington compared the experience to a trip to Northwestern last season. The night before the Buckeyes would beat the Wildcats in an emotional game played on the day that Kobe Bryant died, they were briefly rustled from their hotel when the fire alarm went off.

That experience wasn’t the driving reason why those Buckeyes finished the season with wins in nine of their final 12 games. But those types of shared experiences on the road can either help further the bonds or further split the fissures of divisiveness.

Now, with wins in four straight games and seven of its past eight, this Ohio State team looks to be closer than ever.

“This group has a really special way about them, and I’ve said that from the beginning of the season,” coach Chris Holtmann said.

Ohio State received contributions from up and down its roster in Thursday's gritty win over Iowa, including eight points, seven rebounds and one blocked shot from freshman Zed Key.

Intangibles, however, didn’t hold Iowa center Luka Garza to a season-low 16 points, more than 10 below his season average on a night when he was honored for scoring his 2,000th career point. And they didn’t guide the ball through the net on 14 made three-pointers by the Buckeyes, tying a season high.

As Ahrens said, though, the conversations on a stuck bus might’ve helped when Iowa built an 11-point lead a few moments into the second half and looked ready to deliver a knockout blow. Instead, Washington hit a pair of threes on consecutive possessions to start what would become a 17-5 run that allowed the Buckeyes to reclaim the lead.

“It was a wrench in the road that was only going to make us grow harder,” Washington said of the morning jam. “We built up that animosity for the game, that this is the one, we’re going to go get this one today.”

There was no consensus on the NBA discussions, by the way. Allen Iverson, James Harden and Dwyane Wade all received significant votes for best shooting guard, Ahrens said.

The discussion, he added, will live on for another day, perhaps the next time something goes awry while on the road.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been on a team that has the chemistry like we do this year,” Ahrens said. “It’s always a good time with the guys. Lot of good personalities in this group.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy