IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa’s last regular-season home game of the year ended in storybook fashion Wednesday night inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Junior point guard Jeff Horner got past Je’Kel Foster and nailed an 18-foot jumper with 3.4 seconds on the clock to edge Ohio State, 74-72, and give the Hawkeyes’ their first winning streak in conference play at two games.
“It feels awesome,” Horner said. “We called timeout, and I told Coach (Craig) Neal I wanted the ball. We set up the play, we kind of deviated from it, but the shot was there so I took it.”
Horner said he was supposed to have called in a ball screen from freshman center Seth Gorney, expecting the Buckeyes to go into the zone defense that disrupted Minnesota.
“They were in man, and we took advantage of it,” said Horner, who scored a team-high 25 points on 9 of 17 shooting with eight rebounds and eight assists without a turnover in 40 minutes of play.
Head Coach Steve Alford, who stressed the importance of last-minute plays earlier this week, was just happy his players were able to execute down the stretch. The coach said all he wanted out of the Hawks’ last possession was “a basket.”
“What’s set up isn’t important,” he said. “It’s players making plays. All that credit goes to the players. Jeff made a tremendous play and a tremendous shot.”
Iowa (18-10, 6-9 Big Ten) has battled through the final seconds of recent games, but Alford gave the team a passing grade Wednesday night.
“I didn’t think we panicked,” he said. “We moved the ball and got the shots we wanted. And we fought defensively. Boy, a lot of things can happen in three seconds. I thought we did a nice job of cutting things off.”
Ohio State (18-11, 7-8) got the ball back with 3.4 seconds left, but Jamar Butler stepped out of bounds at mid-court with just a second remaining and sealed his team’s fate.
The Buckeyes’ Terence Dials tied the game at 72 with 27 seconds to go, following a big three-point dunk play by Doug Thomas that gave the Hawkeyes a 72-69 advantage.
Dials scored a game-high 29 points on 12 of 17 shooting and led the Buckeyes with nine rebounds in 40 minutes. Leading his team inside, Dials helped Ohio State post 40 points in the paint – most coming in the early minutes that saw the Buckeyes get out to a nine-point lead, the biggest of the game.
Down by five with 10 minutes to play in the first half, Iowa scored seven-straight points underlined by a three-point fast-break play by Horner, which gave the Hawkeyes their first lead of the game.
Ohio State got out by as much as four points on free throws and a dunk by Dial in the final minutes of the first, but Horner made a dramatic assist to senior Jack Brownlee who nailed his second 3-pointer of the season as the buzzer sounded.
Brownlee and head manager Steve Bauer were honored for Seniors’ Day following the game. But Brownlee’s basket provided all the momentum Iowa needed to get over the rocky patches of the first half.
“It was just a fitting thing,” Alford said. “Jack has been very patient. He’s living out a dream, and I couldn’t think of a more fitting script.”
“I knew Jeff knew that it was my senior night, and he was going to kick it out to me and make a shot,” Brownlee said. “I was glad I could do anything to help us win. It was a lot of fun.”
Helped along by six Ohio State fouls in the first four minutes of the second half, Iowa got out to a six-point lead with seven minutes to play.
Iowa hung on in the end, and that was enough for sophomore transfer Adam Haluska to say his team had turned a corner after enduring a three-game losing streak.
“I think this team has really turned around,” he said. “From the freshmen to the seniors, everybody’s really stepping up. Jack really did a great job for us on Seniors’ Night, and Jeff really put the team on his shoulders those last 20 seconds.
“That’s why he’s our go-to guy. He showed us what he could do. It got us the win.”
Haluska said that Horner had returned to form following a rough patch for the co-captain.
“I think he’s back,” he said. “He told me at Penn State his game flew in from Maui, special delivery. He proved it tonight.”
Horner said that the kind of play he had that led the team to a 12-1 record, including wins against two top-15 teams, in non-conference play was back, along with his confidence.
“We were joking about that before the Penn State game,” Horner said. “I told a bunch of guys in shoot-around, and I said it flew on the redeye this morning. So it came out, and I shot the ball pretty well. We got a couple of victories and that’s the biggest thing.”
Haluska himself scored 22 with three rebounds on 3-of-3 free-throw shooting, which earned Alford’s praises.
“Jeff and Adam have really been playing at a high level,” Alford said. “That’s what you’ve got to consistently be able to do.”
Iowa travels to Michigan for the final game of the regular season on Saturday, and Alford said his team has reason to be confident about a strong finish and a possible trip to the NCAA Tournament.
“I hope we’re pretty confident,” he said. “We’ve got 18 wins and this gives us a chance. This keeps the thing going. Michigan’s had a week to get ready for us. They’re going to be well-rested, and it’ll be a tough contest. But it’s going to be a very exciting must-win on Saturday. I just hope we can go up there and play well.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com