By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa men’s basketball team has spent much of February living on the edge.
In the five games played since beating No. 5 Michigan, 74-59, on Feb. 1, the Hawkeyes have played five consecutive nail-biters. All five were one-possession games in the final minute. The last four came down to the last possession or overtime. Iowa has won four of those five games.
Now 10-6 in the Big Ten and 21-6 overall after that run of success at crunch time, No. 22/21 Iowa hopes to close out February with a victory at Ohio State Tuesday (6 p.m., BTN).
“At first we were thinking to ourselves, ‘We’ve got to win by a couple more points,'” junior forward Tyler Cook said. “But then you realize that we’re playing in the best conference in the country, in my opinion, we’re playing great team after great team in February, and it’s going to be a dogfight. And when the game gets tight we’ve got to make plays down the stretch to separate ourselves.”
The Hawkeyes have won 10 of their last 13 games overall while polishing their NCAA Tournament resume.
“The great thing about our league is every night you have a chance to get a quality win,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “There are endless opportunities to advance your resume. But if you think about advancing your resume you’re probably not going to win the next game. You have to respect your opponent and recognize what every opponent is doing to beat us and what we have to do to beat them.”
Ohio State is 17-10 overall, 7-9 in the Big Ten, and looking for a victory to enhance its NCAA chances. Center Kaleb Wesson is the Buckeyes’ leading scorer at 14.4 points a game. He also averages 6.5 rebounds. Guard C.J. Jackson, Ohio State’s No. 2 scorer at 12.5 points a game, didn’t play Saturday in a loss at Maryland because of a shoulder injury. He is expected to return to game action Tuesday night.
Iowa beat the Buckeyes, then ranked 16th, by a 72-62 score at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 12. Wesson was limited to two points and battled foul trouble.
“It still starts with Kaleb Wesson,” McCaffery said. He’s a handful.”
After starting out 0-2 on the road in Big Ten play, the Hawkeyes are now 4-3 away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Three of the final four regular-season Big Ten games are on the road. Iowa has had a winning Big Ten road record twice under McCaffery – 6-3 in 2014-15 and 5-4 in 2015-16.
“You can’t go on the road and be a mistake team,” McCaffery said. “You have to be able to rebound and take care of the ball to have a chance. If you’re turning it over or getting pounded on the glass, you’re not going to win on the road.”
Iowa had just seven turnovers at Northwestern and nine at Indiana in winning those games, and have averaged 11 turnovers over the last five conference road games while being a plus 14 on the boards.
One reason Iowa has had success recently in a series of close games is clutch shooting from junior guard Jordan Bohannon and freshman guard Connor McCaffery’s passing.
McCaffery set up Bohannon on his game-tying 3-pointer with 28 seconds remaining in regulation against Indiana on Friday, and also was credited with an assist on one of Bohannon’s three overtime triples. In addition, McCaffery recorded an assist on Bohannon’s game-winning three against Northwestern; made the three-quarters-court pass that led to Joe Wieskamp’s game-winning 3-pointer at Rutgers; and made a series of clutch in-bounds passes against full-court pressure in the victory at Indiana.
“He has a very keen understanding of what’s going on out there, and a calmness about him to execute what we’re looking for and read what’s going on,” said McCaffery. “Sometimes we put the ball in Jordan’s and he likes that. And sometimes we move him off the ball and he likes that. So that also makes it harder for opponents to know where he’s going to be.”
McCaffery-coached teams have won twice in Columbus — 84-74 in 2013-14 and 71-65 in 2014-15. A victory Tuesday would also set a new standard for regular-season victories under McCaffery. His 2014-15 and 2015-16 teams also won 21 regular-season games.