By Adam Bakr
No. 13 seed Ohio State defeated No. 5 seed Iowa 73-69 in the Big Ten tournament second round on Thursday and made Big Ten history in the process.
It’s the first time the lower seed has won the first four games of a Big Ten tournament. With No. 10 Penn State’s win over No. 7 Illinois, that streak extended to five. Eleven teams in the conference finished with between nine and 12 wins, and that showing of parity has continued into the postseason.
“It’s an interesting stat,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “I think it speaks to the depth of the league, which we all know really well. The league is really deep and balanced. I think we’re just focused on continuing to play well, which we’ve done for the last few weeks.”
The win sets up a meeting between Ohio State and Michigan State on Friday in the quarterfinals. Michigan State swept the regular season series, including a blowout win in Columbus.
“They obviously got us really good at our place,” Holtmann said. “We played really well at their place on senior night. They’re a terrific team. It’s as good a Michigan State team as the Final Four team. They shoot it as well as that team. They’re different in their makeup, but I think it’s as good as a Michigan State team as maybe we’ve played. I think they’re terrific. So it will be a great challenge.”
Up two points with 20 seconds left, the win was almost in jeopardy for Ohio State. Justice Sueing and Sean McNeil didn’t connect on the inbound. After it looked like the Hawkeyes had a chance to recover, Sueing dove on the ball and quickly passed to Bruce Thornton from the ground before a tie-up could happen, as Iowa had possession. Thornton lost his dribble, but Kris Murray was out of bounds as he tried to keep the ball alive, ending a Buckeye possession with three potential turnovers harm-free.
“When it got to that loose ball that I had to dive on, I wasn’t too sure who had the tie-up,” Sueing said. “So I kind of threw it to Bruce to kind of get that going. It ended up working out. We were able to stay composed, and Roddy made a good play in the backcourt.”
Two made free throws by Sueing gave the game its final four-point difference.
The full court press had caused issues throughout the game. Iowa forced a 10-second violation in the early minutes of the game. In the second half, Ohio State committed two turnovers bringing the ball up the court, ending in a dunk and missed layup for Iowa.
“(The last possession) basically summed up the whole game,” Thornton said. “It was a back-and-forth game the whole game. For us to come out with that possession to show we just wanted it more … we locked in, and at the end we got the win. I’m proud of my guys and proud of the coaching staff.”
The game was in the balance for its entirety. The largest lead either way was six points, and both teams’ longest scoring run was 5-0 — a stark difference from the regular season meetings between these teams, when the home side won by double digits on both occasions.
“Give our guys a lot of credit,” Holtmann said. “I just thought they really battled, found a way to pull it out when it didn’t always look that way, especially late. Guys made big plays across the board. Good luck to Iowa in the NCAA Tournament. I’m excited to follow them. I think they’ve got a really good team.”
For the last two seasons, the Big Ten led all conferences with nine bids into the NCAA Tournament. The lower seeds’ advancement this week gives the potential for a similar scenario this year.
The conference hasn’t fared well in the tournament in either of those years. One Elite Eight run is the furthest a team has gone. Overall, Big Ten teams went 17-18 in tournament play. Another year of conference parity may not be a good sign of what’s to come down the line.
Adam Bakr is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter here.