IOWA CITY, Iowa — It was the Buckeyes vs. the Hawkeyes.
Scarlet red vs. black and yellow.
As January came to a close Monday night, the good people of Iowa City got their money’s worth. Their hometown No. 21 Iowa Hawkeyes took on the No. 23 Ohio State Buckeyes in a pivotal contest and the visitors came away with a thrilling 92-88 victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa came into this conference showdown on a seven-game winning streak, which included a recent overtime victory over Northwestern. Ohio State had lost by 19 points to Michigan in their last game.
Nevertheless, the Buckeyes were expected to give the Hawkeyes a run for their money, especially considering their dominance from the 3-point line.
Meanwhile, Iowa has their own explosive offense, which has gained national attention.
Hawkeye sophomore phenom Caitlin Clark leads the country in assists per game (8.1), points per game (25.5) and triple doubles (4). She also ranks second in total assists (145) and total points (459), third in free throws made (117), seventh in field goals made (151) and free throw attempts (120), 13th in defensive rebounds per game (8.0) and free-throw percentage (90.7) and 16th in double-doubles (10).
Senior Monika Czinano ranks fourth in field-goal percentage (64.6), 12th in points per game (20.6), 14th in field goals made (146), 28th in total points (351) and 37th in free-throw percentage (86.8).
In the Big Ten Conference, two Hawkeyes are statistical leaders. Clark’s assists per game, points per game, triple doubles, total assists, total points, field goals made and free-throw percentage are all first, as is Czinano’s field goal percentage.
All these elements set the stage for an exciting game.
From the start, it was a thriller — a constant back-and-forth showcasing how evenly matched the teams were.
Ohio State’s Rebeka Mikulášiková was dynamite in the paint and beyond the arc. Right off the bat she scored 11 points.
Meanwhile, the Buckeye defense went straight into the press to hold off the Iowa offense, trapping them at every chance and forcing Iowa to push the ball up.
The Hawkeyes were hot from the start as well and it was none other than Clark who was explosive, as she so often is, with 13 points.
At the end of the first, a classic was in the making with Ohio State up 28-27.
The second quarter was not much different as both teams continued that back-and-forth dynamic.
Once Iowa would get on a roll and the Carver-Hawkeye faithful would get into it, the Buckeyes would come right back and render them silent.
Clark was still in control, reaching 21 first-half points. Czianano contributed effectively on the boards and in the paint with 12 points over the first two frames.
The Hawekeys were a bit sour from the free throw line, where they are usually dominant. But junior guard Kate Martin gave them a boost with an epic banked-in 3-pointer that got the crowd on their feet.
Mikulášiková kept the Buckeyes within reach as she amassed 14 points.
At the half it was the Hawkeyes up 48-44.
As the third quarter commenced, Iowa came out of the gates surging.
The Hawkeyes went on a 7-2 run to increase their advantage to nine at 55-46, the largest lead of the game to that point.
Poised to strike while the iron was hot, the amazing duo of Clark and Czinano was virtually unstoppable with Clark on her way to a 30-point game and Czinano with 16.
But Ohio State came right back with Mikulášiková leading the way. Senior guard Taylor Mikesell and junior guard Jacy Sheldon were not too far behind with 11 points each.
Tensions started to build between Clark and Sheldon as they exchanged words towards the end of the third after Sheldon had fouled Clark with 48.1 seconds left.
Clark let it be known that she wasn’t having it as she gestured towards the crowd to get up on their feet and subsequently made both free throws.
Going into the final quarter, it was Iowa up 68-66.
In the fourth, Sheldon hit a three right away to give the Buckeyes a one-point lead.
But Clark took it upon herself to lead as she took every shot she could and made most of them. She was knocking on the door of a 50-point performance.
Her trusted sidekick Czinano was right there in the paint and at the free throw line as she garnered 21 points.
But Ohio State proved they were a worthy opponent as they hustled and muscled their way to keeping it close by making good shots and strengthening their defensive prowess.
The air was briefly sucked out of Carver as the Buckeyes scored two crucial baskets off Iowa turnovers to give them an 86-85 lead with 1:33 left.
After an exchange of baskets, Ohio State led 88-87 with 19.4 seconds to go and the Europe song “The Final Countdown” was blasting out of the speaker system.
Taylor Mikesell hit two free throws to put the Buckeyes up 90-87 with 18.4 seconds left and the crowd was on the edge of their seats.
The end of the game took a dramatic turn when Martin was fouled with five seconds left.
After making her first free throw, she intentionally missed her second to give Iowa a chance to score a field goal. McKenna Warnock grabbed for the ball and was bumped to the ground. Iowa thought she was fouled, but a foul was instead called on Martin. The final buzzer went off and the crowd went into a frenzy. Four-tenths of a second were put back on the clock, but Mikesell made two more free throws to give Ohio State the 92-88 victory in epic and controversial fashion.
A couple of factors played into Iowa’s loss. The Hawkeyes were 10-of-15 (66.7 percent) from the free throw line. Furthermore, while Clark put on an offensive clinic with 43 points and seven assists and Czinano added 23 points of her own, Ohio State’s bench outscored Iowa 12-4.
Something Iowa needs to work on for the remainder of the season is getting the best out of its bench to ease some of the pressure off its top players.
“I think it was a really gritty game and I’m so proud of the way we consistently fought throughout the entire game,” Czinano said. “There wasn’t a single moment where anybody had any doubt and I think we grew a lot from it.”
She also spoke of a collective desire to play Ohio State again during tournament play.
If it comes to that, it would be a must-watch game after what transpired Monday evening.
Iowa (14-5, 8-2 Big Ten) will take on Wisconsin in Madison, Wis. on Thursday at 7:30 p.m ET.
Ohio State (16-4, 8-3 Ten) will host Rutgers on Monday, Feb. 7 at 6 p.m ET.