Iowa basketball’s NCAA Tournament chances likely extinguished with loss to Ohio State

A season that has teetered on the edge of falling apart multiple times finally reached its breaking point on Thursday.

Iowa men’s basketball has had its back against the wall for a while. Each time it looked like the team’s NCAA Tournament hopes were history, the Hawkeyes managed to bounce back and get back in the conversation.

On Thursday, that was the case no longer. The 7th-seeded Hawkeyes fell to the 10th-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes 90-78 in the Big Ten Tournament. It was the second consecutive game that Iowa failed to lead for even a single second.

Iowa's NCAA Tournament chances likely done with loss to Ohio State

The loss capped off a frustrating two-game stretch. At a time when the Hawkeyes couldn’t afford to play poorly, they did. Twice. They didn’t take advantage of the shot at Illinois at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, and then came up short in their first Big Ten Tournament game against Ohio State.

Barring something unforeseen, Iowa will not be among the 68 teams selected for the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi projected Iowa as “out” with a loss to Ohio State.

Ohio State got contributions from a variety of players. Ten Buckeyes got in the scoring column. Jamison Battle exploded in the second half, with all of his 23 points coming after halftime. Roddy Gayle Jr. and Bruce Thornton were also in double-figures.

The Buckeyes also got a major boost from outside its starting five, outscoring Iowa 37-16 in bench points. Freshman Scotty Middleton led the way for the Buckeyes’ second unit, scoring 11.

Rebounding struggles, something that has plagued Iowa on multiple occasions this season, hurt the Hawkeyes again on Thursday. The Buckeyes outrebounded the Hawkeyes 42-36 overall.

Iowa’s Payton Sandfort, who has been fantastic during the latter part of the season, did all he could on Thursday. Sandfort scored a team-high 19 points. Iowa had three other players in double-figures.

Ohio State picked apart Iowa’s defense, shooting 51.7% from the field and 55% from deep. Defensive shortcomings are not something new to this program.

Iowa basketball’s NCAA Tournament chances were on the line in Minneapolis

The Hawkeyes built some substantial momentum and seemed to turn the corner in recent weeks, winning four of their last six games of the regular season, with both losses coming to a good Illinois team.

But Iowa still arrived in Minneapolis on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble and likely needed at least two wins to feel good on Selection Sunday.

Iowa beat Ohio State 79-77 in the teams’ only meeting during the regular season on Feb. 2. But the Buckeyes entered the Big Ten Tournament as a hot club. Since coach Chris Holtmann was fired in mid-February, Ohio State is 6-1 under interim head coach Jake Diebler, which includes a victory over Purdue.

Iowa's NCAA Tournament chances likely done with loss to Ohio State

On Thursday, Ohio State jumped out to a 10-2 lead. It was reminiscent of Iowa’s start against Illinois in the regular-season finale. In the game against Illinois, Iowa dug itself a massive hole early and couldn’t recover.

On Thursday, though, Iowa got back into it before the game got away. The Hawkeyes knotted the score at 15 apiece.

At the break, Ohio State led 43-38. From a glass-half-full point of view, it wasn’t the worst spot for Iowa to be in given Ohio State was shooting a sizzling 60.7% from the field and 72.7% from deep. The Buckeyes could’ve been up by a lot more.

Iowa cut its deficit to just three early in the second half. But then the offense went cold. The Hawkeyes shot just 33.3% from the field and 25% from deep after halftime. Meanwhile, Ohio State’s Battle was heating up.

Thursday was another missed opportunity in a season filled with them for the Hawkeyes. Iowa blew second-half leads vs. Penn State, Maryland (twice), Illinois and Indiana. If the Hawkeyes had won a couple of those games, maybe they’d be looking at a fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

Even so, the Hawkeyes had a chance to get on the selection committee’s good side. But they slumped at the wrong time, with uninspired performances against the Illini and the Buckeyes.

Iowa won this event in 2022 for the third time in program history. The Hawkeyes, then a No. 5-seed, won four games in four days to capture a Big Ten Tournament title.

In 2024, Iowa could not recapture that magic.

Follow Tyler Tachman on X @Tyler_T15, contact via email at [email protected]

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