IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa broke a two-game losing streak Saturday by easily dispatching Ohio State 79-65 before 14,268 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I thought that was a really big win for our guys,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “I think we’ve been playing some good basketball the last couple of weeks.”
The Hawkeyes had a season-low eight turnovers and held an opponent to 35 percent from the field for the first time since they lost to Missouri on Jan. 3.
“We’ve had some slippage (in the defense),” said Alford. “I was really pleased with how our guys competed at the defensive end. Our defense has been clicking lately.”
In the opening minutes, Iowa couldn’t capitalize on some early possessions, while OSU jumped to a 5-2 lead.
But after a media timeout with 15:58 to play in the first half, the Hawkeyes put together an 11-1 run with a 3-pointer apiece by Jeff Horner and Glen Worley and two dunks by sophomore guard Pierre Pierce.
The Buckeyes were able to cut their 11-point deficit back down to eight with a 3-pointer by J.J. Sullinger and a layup by Velimir Radinovic, but the Hawks closed the half by going 4-of-6 at the line to finish with a 30-20 advantage.
“We came out with tenacity and with intense pressure on them,” sophomore forward Greg Brunner said. “They made some run-offs late in the first half, and we bounced back and owned the second half.”
If the first half was commanding, then the second was a welcome back party of sorts for Brunner and senior guard Brody Boyd.
Brunner went 3-of-5 from the field, including a dunk, for seven points and grabbed a team-high-equalling eight boards.
“I told him when he came out there, `Wecome back,'” Alford said of Brunner. “He was trying to dunk the ball again. He played like a power forward tonight. We have to have that.”
“It’s nice to be back,” said Brunner. “I was just more aggressive in the second half with my offense. I wasn’t as timid.”
“Greg’s been a lot more comfortable this week in practice,” said Horner. “I think he needs to get his confidence back up a little bit, and this was the game to do it.”
But it was Boyd’s performance in the second half that really caught Coach Alford’s attention.
After missing all four shots in the opening 20 minutes, Alford challenged Boyd at the half to break a habit of letting first attempts stop their successors.
“I told him that this is where we have to have some maturity,” Alford said. “We’ve had a lot of games in the past where they’ve held Brody scoreless or had a very poor half and then that’s the way the game is – a lot of zeroes.”
Boyd got the message, hitting three 3-pointers, a layup and going 8-of-9 for 19 points in the second half. He also got four steals and two rebounds in the game.
“That’s what good scorers do,” Alford said. “I thought (OSU) lost track of him in the second half.”
“(Coach Alford) talked to me at halftime about my first half and he said he wanted to see how I matured,” said Boyd. “And I did in the second half.
“It was a good win. It was huge. We felt that it was a must win for us. It’s good to win after losing two in-a-row.”
But in addition to the back-up-to-standards play of Boyd and Brunner, it was Horner’s 20 total points, eight rebounds and seven assists that made a destined victory a runaway.
Horner has scored 20 or more points in three of Iowa’s last four games, with a career-high 26 last Wednesday against Iowa State.
“He’s a phenomenal player and without him, we wouldn’t be getting these wins,” Boyd said of Horner. “He’s a great player and everybody knew he was going to be coming out of high school.”
“I’ve just had a couple of good shooting nights,” said Horner. “I really think we have a lot of guys who can be the leading scorer night in and night out, it just happened to be me the last two games.
“My shot just feels a lot better and my teammates are finding me out there,” Horner added. “It’s just been a lot of fun lately, and if we can get some more wins on the board, it would make it that much better.”
Iowa (10-6 overall, 3-2 Big Ten) travels to Ann Arbor next Wednesday. OSU drops to 9-9 overall and 1-4 in the conference.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com