Survival could be the name of the game when the No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes visit Iowa City for a Big Ten date with the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday.
The Buckeyes (12-3, 2-2 Big Ten) opened the season 12-1 before losing 86-77 to now-No. 5 Michigan State on Jan. 5, and then, in a shocker, falling to conference lightweight Rutgers 64-61 on the road Wednesday.
C.J. Jackson, the Buckeyes' second-leading scorer at 13.1 points per game, got a good look at a 3-pointer with two seconds left but missed. That loss could haunt the Buckeyes come NCAA Tournament seeding time, but Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said he is keeping the focus on the here and now.
"I've been saying for weeks that we've got a long ways to go and I'm not sure if that ranking means anything," Holtmann said in the Columbus Dispatch after the Rutgers defeat.
"We have to, as coaches and players, accept responsibility for this loss and figure out how to get better and move forward. I don't really worry about the optics of it or what it means beyond just figuring out a way to coach our guys better."
Sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State's leader in scoring (17.1), rebounding (6.9) and field goal percentage (53.9), said the players are intent on putting the past two games behind them.
"We can't let these two losses define us. We're a better team than our last two losses," he said.
The Hawkeyes' biggest question is how soon their leading man, Tyler Cook, gets back from knee soreness that made him a late scratch from Iowa's 73-63 win at Northwestern on Wednesday.
The 6-foot-9 junior is averaging 17.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and almost 31 minutes per game, while shooting 59.2 percent, all team highs. He is fifth in the Big Ten in rebounding.
In his absence, Iowa (13-3, 2-3) got 19 points from freshman guard Joe Wieskamp, eight above his average, and 16 off the bench from 6-11 sophomore forward Luka Garza. Senior forward Nicholas Baer added 10 rebounds, five above his average.
"Everyone knew we had to dig in and everyone had to step up," Garza told the Hawk Central website. "It's a great thing when your best player's out and your leader's out, and you can go out there and get a big road win."
Ohio State brings a challenge defensively. Through Thursday's games, the Buckeyes ranked among the top 36 in the nation in scoring defense (63.7 points per game), defensive field goal percentage (39.3), and 3-point field goal defensive percentage (29.6).
Having the Buckeyes come to Iowa City is also a bonus for the Hawkeyes, who had lost eight straight road conference games before beating Northwestern.
"We know that we want to play in March. This is the type of win we need to get," Wieskamp said.
The Hawkeyes had been No. 25 in the nation but fell out of the poll after going 1-1 last week, falling at Purdue before returning home to beat Nebraska.
--Field Level Media