COLUMBUS — Almost no one for No. 14 Ohio State was thrilled with the way they played Tuesday night.
Still, the Buckeyes will take the outcome.
Deshaun Thomas, who missed part of the second half with a cut above his eye, scored 16 points and Ohio State built a 24-point lead and then hung on to beat Iowa 72-63.
“We’re happy we got the win, but we’re not happy with the way we got the win,” post player Evan Ravenel said.
Thomas, the Big Ten’s leading scorer at 21 points per game, sat out about three minutes while an open cut over his right eye was bandaged. He had to get what a team spokesman said was six or seven stitches to close it.
His absence came at a time when the Buckeyes (14-4, 4-2 Big Ten) seemed to lose their focus. A majority of it was Iowa contesting every play and fighting back, but it was as if they were content to just ride out the final few minutes and hope for the best.
“We didn’t do it the prettiest way. We didn’t finish it the way we wanted to,” said point guard Aaron Craft, who set Ohio State’s career mark for steals. “But we got the win. We found a way to fight and get the win.”
The Buckeyes led 53-29 after Ravenel hit a free throw with 12:48 left. Most in a crowd of 16,040 were itching to head for the exits and beat the rush.
Slowly but surely, however, Iowa (13-6, 2-4) knifed into the lead.
“A lot of times teams don’t have the maturity or the patience to try to chip away,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “That’s what we did. We got it under 20, then we got it under 15, we got it under 10, we got it under five.”
He said it’s important for teams to know they can’t erase such a big lead quickly.
“We got a couple of turnovers, we got a couple of runouts, a couple of easy baskets, and we got to the free throw line,” he said. “That’s how you have to do it. You can’t just start jacking threes. It’s got to be easy baskets, free throws and an occasional three.”
Aaron White, an Ohio native playing his first college game in his home state, hit the second of two foul shots with 1:30 left to cut the once huge lead down to just 63-59.
Craft added a foul shot with 1:02 left and, after forcing a turnover, Thomas made two more with 52.9 seconds remaining.
Roy Devyn Marble, who had a miserable shooting night for the Hawkeyes, then missed two free throws before Craft made two more to push the lead to 68-59 with 40 seconds left and end the threat.
“I do think in the league we’re in right now you take your wins and semi-celebrate them,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “By the same token, you’ve got to look at things and say, ‘OK, how do we get better?’”
Matta said his team was exhausted by the finish, most likely because he had pushed it hard the past two weeks to get off to a good start in the difficult Big Ten.
Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. each had 12 points and Ravenel added 11 for Ohio State. Center Amir Williams had a strange stat line: six blocked shots and no rebounds to go with two points.
The victory broke a stalemate in the series, which began in 1915. Each team had won 75 meetings coming in. Ohio State has won eight straight against Iowa and 10 of the last 11. The Hawkeyes haven’t won in Columbus since 2004.
The Hawkeyes’ four Big Ten losses have come to teams ranked in the top 15 — No. 2 Michigan, No. 7 Indiana, No. 13 Michigan State and the 14th-ranked Buckeyes. Those teams came into the week with an overall combined record of 62-10 and 16-5 in the conference.
Craft set the school’s career mark for steals with 205 when he plucked the ball from White at the 14:25 mark with the Buckeyes leading 10-6. The junior came in sharing the record with Jay Burson (1986-89).
Ohio State scored the final six points of the first half to take a 34-22 lead and then stretched the streak to 10-0 on baskets by Craft and Thomas. It appeared that the rout was on.
“We dug a little bit too big of a hole,” Iowa’s Mike Gesell said. “We tried to battle back and we just fell a little bit short. We just have to come out stronger in the first half.”
Although displeased with the wild swings in momentum in the game, Craft said the bottom line was the most important thing.
“A win is a win in conference play. That’s a big one to try to keep us in the hunt,” he said. “There’s still a lot of basketball to play, but in this league you have to protect home court.”