Ohio State was rolling through its non-conference schedule heading into its latest game, winning its first nine contests and knocking off a pair of Top 25 teams while jumping into the rankings itself.
Now, it can’t wait for Big Ten play to begin.
The No. 24 Buckeyes will try to put the image of their worst loss in nearly five years behind them on Wednesday when they open their conference slate against visiting Iowa.
Wins over Miami and Notre Dame helped Ohio State (9-1) move up to No. 15 in the country, but the Buckeyes’ lofty ranking was short-lived. After opening with nine straight wins by an average of 15.2 points, Ohio State turned in one of its worst performances in years Saturday in Columbus.
The Buckeyes were down seven at the half to unranked West Virginia, but wound up losing 76-48. They shot 31.0 percent in their most lopsided loss since falling by 30 at Wisconsin on Feb. 14, 2004.
“We weren’t very good. It’s just that simple,” coach Thad Matta said. “… In the second, we never could overcome their early run. We just didn’t have the bite in us today.”
Not coincidentally, Ohio State’s loss came the same day its best player, Evan Turner, had his worst game of the season. The sophomore guard, who’s averaging 16.2 points, went 4-of-17 from the field and finished with 10 points.
“I can’t say much,” said Turner, who leads the Buckeyes in rebounding (7.2) and assists (2.9), and is tops in the Big Ten with 2.7 steals per game. “We were bad on offense and defense and didn’t play up to our abilities.
“I didn’t do anything different. My shots just didn’t fall. It happens to all of us.”
Ohio State’s shooting was even worse from 3-point range. The Buckeyes went 2-of-18 from beyond the arc, and sophomore Jon Diebler was 1-of-7.
They shoot 32.2 percent from 3-point range - 10th in the conference - and Diebler, who was 13-of-28 (46.4) in his first four games, has been especially off. He’s just 3-of-15 in his past three games.
Ohio State is among the top 15 teams in the nation defensively, allowing 55.8 points per game, but Iowa (10-3) is even better, yielding 54.6.
The Hawkeyes held Western Illinois to 34.0 percent shooting on Saturday in Iowa City, but still needed to rally to win. Down one at halftime, Iowa outscored the Leathernecks 36-20 in the second half to come away with a 58-43 victory.
“Defensively, on the perimeter I thought we did a nice job and the post for the most part, especially in the second half,” coach Todd Lickliter said. “Ball movement was better in the second half and that gave us more opportunities.”
Aside from a commitment to defense, the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes share a blowout loss to West Virginia in common. Iowa shot 54.1 percent on Nov. 28 in the Las Vegas Invitational, but turned the ball over 21 times and was throttled 87-68 by the Mountaineers.
Freshman guard Anthony Tucker, the Hawkeyes’ leading scorer at 13.0 points per game, had a season-high 24 in that loss, part of a six-game opening stretch in which he averaged 17.2 points.
Tucker, however, hasn’t been the same since, averaging 6.8 points in four games. He’s missed three of Iowa’s last four contests, two because of a suspension for an alcohol-related incident. After returning in a 60-43 loss at Drake on Dec. 20, he was mysteriously benched against Western Illinois and his status for this game is unclear.
These teams split two meetings last season, with Ohio State winning 79-48 at home on Jan. 9.