It's late February, but these Hawkeyes aren't fading -- they're flying. Iowa rode a blazing hot start to a big first half lead -- they went on a 12-0 run early on to open up an 18-3 lead and pushed the lead as high as 19 at 27-8 halfway through the period. Ohio State chopped the lead down to single digits, but a Joe Wieskamp 3 at the end of the half gave Iowa an 11-point lead. The second half was basically 20 minutes of Iowa keeping Ohio State at arm's length. Iowa's shooting cooled off in the second half, but aside from a surge near the end of the game, Ohio State's shooting never really got going. Iowa's lead rarely dipped below 10 points in the second half, so while this was officially just a 9-point win, it certainly felt more lopsided than that for the majority of the game.
Ohio State has been one of the best at defending two-point shots all season long; entering this game, they had held teams to 41% shooting on two-point attempts, the 4th best rate in the nation. That rate had jumped to 46% in Big Ten games, but it was still a solid number. So of course Iowa made 70% (19/27) of their twos in this game. Basically every Iowa player was scoring in the paint against the Buckeyes when they had the chance. Luka Garza was 7/8 on 2s, Cordell Pemsl was 4/4, and Ryan Kriener and Bakari Evelyn were each 2/3 inside the 3-point line. The only player who was struggling with those looks a bit was Joe Wieskamp, who shot 3/6 from inside the arc. On the bright side, Wieskamp also had one of the best makes of the game with this thunderous dunk:
Iowa didn't just do damage around the bucket, though -- they lit it up from 3-point range, going 10/25 from beyond the arc in this game. And they did that without CJ Fredrick (who missed another game with the ankle injury he sustained a week ago) and with Wieskamp shooting 1/6 from deep. Instead, Iowa's 3-point barrage was led by noted long-range sharpshooters... Bakari Evelyn and Joe Toussaint? It's true: Evelyn went 3/5 from downtown while Toussaint was 2/2 on his tries from deep. Ohio State gave Toussaint open looks and he made them pay. Iowa also got a three from Ryan Kriener, who entered the game making 30% of his 3-point tries (on 33 attempts); that's when you know the game is going your way.
The star of the game was, of course, Luka Garza, who posted his 12th straight game with 20+ points in Big Ten play with 24 points on 9/15 shooting. Garza was especially en fuego in the first half, going for 17 points on 7/9 shooting. We're really running out of superlatives to describe him at this point. Even when he wasn't scoring, Garza was creating well for others -- he had a team-high (and career-high) four assists tonight, too. In this game Garza faced off with another one of the Big Ten's murderer's row of big men in Ohio State's Kaleb Wesson -- and comprehensively outplayed him. Wesson was stuck in foul trouble for most of the game and finished with 10 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 4 turnovers. Like everyone else in the Big Ten, Ohio State didn't have any answers for Garza.
If Garza's dominance is expected (and -- heaven help us -- it's almost reaching that point now), the supporting cast players who stepped up in this one were not expected. Weiskamp finished with 13 points, 4 rebounds, and an assist, but had a rocky 4/12 night shooting the ball. Ohio State smothered him on defense, which kept him wrapped up for most of the night. Iowa also got 12 points and 5 rebounds on 3/4 shooting (plus 5/6 at the free throw line) from Ryan Kriener, who continued his strong run of recent play.
But Iowa also got really big games out of Bakari Evelyn and Cordell Pemsl off the bench. Evelyn was terrific, with 15 points on 5/8 shooting (3/5 from deep) and three assists. 10 of his 15 points came in the second half and he hit a couple big shots to halt any Ohio State momentum before it could build up much steam. Pemsl built off his good showing against Minnesota with another tremendous outing, with 9 points on 4/4 shooting (and a bevy of nice post moves, including a wicked spin that left an Ohio State player in North Liberty) and 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. Iowa's bench has gotten shorter and shorter as the season has gone along and it's certainly had some very quiet nights in league play -- but it roared tonight. Pemsl and Evelyn gave Iowa some outstanding play off the bench, which was crucial for Iowa here. (Shout-out to Joe Toussaint, too; JoeT has had a few more downs than ups lately, but he made a nice impact tonight with 9 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal on 3/6 shooting (2/2 from deep) in 19 minutes tonight. Iowa got good minutes out of Toussaint -- who turned into Threesaint for a few moments in this game, too.)
This was just another immensely satisfying win in a season that's already had a lot of good times. Ohio State came in as one of the Big Ten's hottest teams, with wins in five of their last six games. Iowa came in off a grueling, physically and emotionally draining road win over Minnesota on Sunday. And none of that mattered here -- Iowa got off to one of their best starts of the year, Ohio State got off to one of their worst, and that gave Iowa all the cushion they would need to push on for the win.
Iowa improves to 19-8 overall and 10-6 in the Big Ten -- and just a 1/2 game behind Penn State for second place in the league. (Of course, they're also just a game back from being tied for 7th place in the Big Ten, because this league is still absurdly, ridiculously bunched-up, but shhh.) Iowa now has six wins over AP Top 25 teams; no one else in the Big Ten has more than four. Iowa also now has eight Quad 1 wins in the NET ranking system; no one else in the Big Ten has more than seven. This team is good and they have the resume to back it up.
GO IOWA AWESOME.
NEXT: Iowa heads to a familiar house of horrors in East Lansing to play Michigan State (18-9, 10-6 Big Ten) on Tuesday, February 25 at 6 PM CT (ESPN2).