There is a fine line between being acknowledged and being respected.
For the past two-and-a-half months the Iowa basketball team has toed that line on more than one occasion. Sunday’s game at Ohio State provided the Hawkeyes with another opportunity to seek out this boundary in an attempt to finally step over it for good.
Simply put, Iowa succeeded yesterday in convincing fashion.
With it’s 84-74 road victory in Columbus, the Hawkeyes placed themselves squarely on the side of teams to be reckoned with come tournament time in March. Not only did the win get them over the hump that has been their failure to close games out late against highly ranked opponents, but it also solidified their position as a legitimate Big Ten title contender.
From the opening tip Iowa showed its ability to create and withstand runs that make up the ebb and flow of any game against a quality opponent.
In its three previous contests versus top 10 opponents (Villanova, Iowa State, Wisconsin) Iowa found itself in control well into the second half only to see late leads slip away. Sunday’s game with the 3rd ranked Buckeyes saw the Hawkeyes entrenched in a back-and-forth battle throughout. Countless lead changes occurred until with just under 13 minutes to go Ohio State extended its lead to nine, and seemingly had Iowa pushed to the brink of another second half collapse.
Except this time was different, and the Hawkeyes simply refused to go down quietly. Iowa showed both the sense of calm and intestinal fortitude that all great teams have when the chips are down.
In quickly erasing the nine point deficit, no. 20 Iowa thrust itself back into a ballgame that it eventually took control of in the closing minutes. Instead of allowing for hopes of a comeback to linger the Hawkeyes slammed the door shut on the home team en route to the program’s first victory over a top five opponent since 2001.
Iowa was never rattled throughout the afternoon, and head coach Fran McCaffery did a superb job of utilizing his timeouts to stymie potential Ohio State runs. Though it may not have felt like it to fans, this team looked as though it had no recollection or persisting doubts stemming from the few agonizingly close defeats early in the season.
The Hawkeyes looked confident in themselves and in each other, especially Devyn Marble and Aaron White. Marble helped to shoulder the load in the first half with his scoring and leadership against the hellacious defense of Ohio State’s guards, while White hit some big baskets in the second stanza to help Iowa close the gap and regain the lead. Both players also contributed to putting the proverbial “nail in the coffin” by knocking down their free throws as the Buckeyes scrambled to make one final run.
The victory over Ohio State means that more and more people will start taking notice of the Hawkeyes. It means that this is a team capable of winning anyplace, anytime, and against whomever stands in front of them. Yesterday’s win means that a national stage is not too much for Iowa to handle.
I could talk further about this victory’s magnitude in terms of NCAA Tournament seeding, etc., but of greater importance is the pride and confidence it should instill in everyone associated with the team.
The bottom line is that Iowa is for real, and will continue to be such even as the calendar flips to a little thing known as March Madness.