Perfect no more: No. 10 Iowa tops No. 2 Buckeyes before sellout crowd
Ohio State has made a habit of second-half comebacks this season. Ever since the No. 2 Buckeyes opened the season with a win over then-No. 5 Tennessee, their ethos has been an ability to turn games around in the second half.
They did it against the Lady Vols. They did it against then-No. 18 Louisville. South Florida pushed Ohio State to overtime in December, and the Buckeyes emerged victorious. In back-to-back games in early January, they pulled off double-digit comebacks against Minnesota and Illinois.
But Monday at Value City Arena, facing No. 10 Iowa in front of a sellout crowd, Ohio State's second-half luck ran out. Caitlin Clark, one of the best players in the country, proved too much to handle, and the Buckeyes were undone by their own poor shooting as they lost their first game of the season, 83-72.
"Iowa deserved to win the game," OSU coach Kevin McGuff said. "They were certainly the better team tonight. They were much more efficient on offense. We got out-rebounded by 20. You're not going to beat any good team in this league when that happens, and then we went 4 for 25 from 3. Tonight wasn't our night. We didn't play very well."
In a matchup featuring the Big Ten's top two offenses — Iowa entered the game averaging 87.9 points per game, and Ohio State averaged 86.3 — the pace was frenetic from the beginning. Ohio State (19-1 overall, 8-1 Big Ten) started with two quick baskets to go up 4-0, but a 3-pointer from Gabbie Marshall quickly cut the deficit and set the tone for a back-and-forth opening 10 minutes.
Taylor Mikesell hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter to push Ohio State back into the lead, 24-23. But after a layup by OSU freshman Cotie McMahon to open the second quarter, Iowa went on an 11-0 run and did not relinquish that lead the rest of the way. The Hawkeyes (16-4, 8-1) outscored the Buckeyes 20-10 in the second quarter and led 43-34 at halftime.
McMahon and sophomore Taylor Thierry helped Ohio State stay within striking distance over the first five minutes of the third quarter, but the Hawkeyes' lead stretched to 12 by the 5:56 mark of the third quarter when McGuff took a timeout.
Out of the timeout, Eboni Walker's driving layup initiated what became a 10-0 run for the Buckeyes over the final 5:11 of the third quarter. Their defense, particularly in the half court, strengthened, and their competitive level visibly rose as they battled for rebounds and forced turnovers. In that 5:11 stretch, Ohio State grabbed seven rebounds to Iowa's 10 — a better ratio than the game as a whole, as the Hawkeyes pulled down 51 boards to the Buckeyes' 31.
But Clark and center Monika Czinano were never going to stay quiet for long. Success in slowing Clark is measured on a moment-by-moment basis, with stopping her for more than a few possessions all but impossible.
"She's an amazing player, honestly," Thierry said. "She's tough to guard. She's one of the best players to ever play the game in college. She can handle the ball really well. She can shoot really well. She can score at all three levels. It kind of just motivated us to do our best to guard her. I think we kind of did good at some points, and other times we just need to work on some things."
Ohio State's poor 3-point shooting, which was a limiting factor throughout the night, didn't turn the corner in the final 10 minutes, and Clark did what she does all too well as she led the Hawkeyes to pull away. Thierry drew an and-one with under two minutes left to cut the deficit to eight points, but that was as close the Buckeyes came down the final stretch.
"We just didn't play very well," McGuff said. "To get dominated on the boards like that, we just didn't show the fight that we needed in a really big time Big Ten basketball game. The loss, I can handle. If we would've played as hard as we could and really executed at a high level and they just beat us, no problem. But we didn't play well and we didn't deserve to win."
Clark finished with 28 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds, the eighth triple-double of her career — a Big Ten record for both men's and women's basketball. After the final buzzer, she grabbed a T-shirt emblazoned with Ohio State's "dub chain" — a necklace the Buckeyes give to the best player after each win, which was put on a T-shirt as a giveaway for the fans.
McMahon, who led Ohio State with 21 points, watched it happen before stepping off the court.
"Caitlin Clark took the dub chain shirt, as like a little joke, whatever, which is cool," McMahon said. "I was just thinking in my head, seeing that, we just have to smile through it and move on to the next.
"We're not worried about this game anymore. We've got (No. 6) Indiana next, and that's all we're worried about."