Over the years there are some things you just didn’t expect to see around Ohio State:
- Woody Hayes throwing the football 50 times a game.
- A Buckeye crowd cheering the sight of a big maize colored block M set on blue background.
- Thad Matta’s basketball team losing two games in a row.
- Jim Tressel trading in his sweater vest for a long, leather trench coat, matching gators, black turtleneck and that Isaac Hayes’ theme song as he swaggered up and down the sidelines like Shaft.
While some things were true to form Sunday at Value City Arena — the crowd of 18,809 booed heartily when the University of Michigan logo appeared on the overhead video board at halftime — one thing was not.
Coming into the game with No. 20 Iowa, the Buckeyes had lost back-to-back games just two times in the past five seasons.
Although they had dropped their first game of the season in overtime at Michigan State Tuesday night, they came into Sunday’s affair still 15-1, ranked No. 3 and with a loud home court advantage. And when Amedeo Della Valle, the Buckeyes’ curly-headed Italian sharpshooter, hit a 3-pointer to put OSU up by nine — 53-44 — with 12:51 left in the game, it looked as if status quo would return.
That’s why what happened next left everyone so puzzled afterward.
OSU came unglued and within 2½ minutes Iowa had tied the score, 55-55. The Bucks nudged ahead once more by 5 and then — with their stars making far more errors than positive plays — they faded down the stretch and finally lost, 84-74.
In the final four minutes, Aaron Craft, the pesky OSU point guard who so often has willed his team to wins with his gritty, up-in-your-grill defense, turned the ball over twice, missed free throws on two occasions, botched a lay-up and finally fouled out, finishing with just as many turnovers (6) as points.
Over just about that same span, LaQuinton Ross — the team’s leading scorer who on this day would finish with 22 — turned the ball over twice and missed a 3-pointer. In fact, in the final seven minutes he was held scoreless.
Afterward, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery agreed when someone suggested this was the Hawkeyes’ biggest victory since he took over the program in 2010.
“The first year we beat the fifth-ranked team, Purdue, on the last day of the season and that was huge,” he said. “And the second year we beat four ranked teams. But this time — this was the first time on the road, so that is a fair assessment.”
What made the victory for his 14-3 Hawkeyes even more meaningful, he said, was what had been the nature of the OSU team this season.
“We have tremendous respect for everything Thad Matta has done since he got here … and with this team in particular,” McCaffery said. “I’ve watched this team against Notre Dame. I watched them against Michigan State (coming from 17 down in the final seven minutes or so of regulation).” They are as resilient of a team as I’ve ever seen.”
Sunday, though, the Bucks not only lost their late-game resilience, but before that, their killer instinct, too.
“We learned today things aren’t going to be easy,” Craft said afterward. “We went through a stretch today when we wanted things to be easy. We didn’t want them to make a run when we went up 9. We wanted them to just die. But they’re not gonna do that. They’re a great team.”
Afterward, Craft, Ross and Matta all tried to put a finger on what went wrong. They talked about mental lapses, about a lack of communication at times and about an inability to take care of the basketball.
All that is part of it — the Bucks have now had 38 turnovers in their back-to-back losses — but as Matta noted they also played some very good basketball in both of those games.
The Buckeyes are a good, but flawed, team.
They’re especially soft inside. In the first half alone, Iowa scored 30 points in the paint and by game’s end it held the rebound advantage, 40-31.
Matta pointed out there is history to draw on here.
“We were in this exact same position last year. We went to Michigan and got beat in overtime and then came home and got beat by (No.1) Indiana. The biggest thing now is making sure our minds are where they need to be to get better.”
Last year, after those two straight losses, the Bucks won 12 of their next 13 games.
And this time?
Craft said with the next two games on the road “it won’t get easier … But there’s still a lot of basketball to be played. The worst thing we can do is feel sorry for ourselves. You can’t take anything away from Iowa, they did what they needed to do.
“But it can’t keep going like this. We’ve got to find a way to pick ourselves up. No one is gonna do it for us. It’s up to the 12 players on the team and the coaches, that’s about it.”
With that he and Ross left the postgame press conference for the dressing room. For all the talk of picking themselves up, their heads were mostly down as they headed out the door.
Maybe it was time to crank up a little old school Isaac Hayes for these guys:
“Who’s the cat that won’t cop out
“When there’s danger all about