Transition Defense Doomed Ohio State in Pivotal Game at Iowa

By Andy Anders on February 4, 2024 at 8:35 am
Chris Holtmann
Jeffrey Becker – USA TODAY Sports

In a game Ohio State lost by two points, a 17-point discrepancy in one statistic is a clear area to point to.

Iowa trounced the Buckeyes 17-0 in fastbreak points, which proved to be the difference in a 79-77 affair in Iowa City that saw neither team pull ahead by more than four points in the first 30 minutes.

That’s why Chris Holtmann isn’t blaming any individual play, such as Felix Okpara’s costly double-dribble in the final 30 seconds while Ohio State was trying to take the lead, for the loss.

“At the end of the day, those are the little things that matter, but that’s not what got us beat,” Holtmann said on 97.1 the Fan following the game. “It’s the transition points that got us beat and the inability, at times, to get a stop when we needed to.”

Six separate Hawkeyes scored a bucket in fastbreak settings.

Iowa guard Tony Perkins, the game’s leading scorer with 20 points, collected two transition buckets. None was more costly to Ohio State than a quick jumper to put the Hawkeyes back ahead 69-67 with four minutes to play following a game-tying layup from Bruce Thornton.

“We were disorganized in transition right there a few times,” Holtmann said. “At the end of the day, that’s probably what got us, is the inability to get a couple stops, and a couple of those (transition baskets) were after makes. That’s the disappointing thing.”

While it should be noted Iowa boasts one of the fastest-paced, highest-scoring offenses in the country, ranking 17th nationally with 84.2 points per game, the Buckeyes’ defense ultimately didn’t get the job done in totality on the road. Iowa shot 54.7% from the field against Ohio State and 60.4% on two-point attempts.

“I thought, overall, our guys performed well. They performed well,” Holtmann said. “We still have to sustain an effort for longer on the defensive end. We have to do that. We have to do that every time out. That’s the reality. I thought we had stretches that were really, really good with that. But just not long enough.”

Given some of its recent struggles, it was something of a positive sign to see Ohio State’s own offense keep pace. Even if Iowa is a meager 248th nationally in points allowed per 100 possessions, giving up 105.1.

The Buckeyes shot 7-of-16 from three and held a 40-38 edge in points in the paint.

“I thought we did a great job attacking the paint, a great job,” Holtmann said. “I thought we attacked their pressure, at times, well. A couple times we could have been a little more aggressive against their pressure but we got a few layups against their press, which was good. So there was certainly some good things. It’s a game of inches and tonight we just weren’t able to create enough of an advantage there.”

Holtmann’s team is out of time for moral victories, however.

The fact remains that Ohio State has lost seven of its past eight games and 15 straight on the road. It is nowhere near the NCAA Tournament bubble as it stands, with a 13-9 record overall and a 3-8 mark in Big Ten play.

To get to 20 wins this regular season, the Buckeyes would need to win seven of their last nine games. Two of those contests are against No. 2 Purdue and at No. 6 Wisconsin. Including that tilt with the Badgers, four of Ohio State’s remaining nine contests are on the road, where it hasn’t won in 399 days as of Sunday.

The Iowa game truly felt like a must-win. And in a season where a long list of things have cost the Buckeyes in games, transition defense tolled the bell against Iowa for what feels more and more like a dead team walking.

Ohio State will try to revive itself in some small way against Indiana on Tuesday. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. in Value City Arena with Peacock set to stream the contest.

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