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Thomas' clutch play sparks Ohio State past Iowa

The SportsXchange

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With No. 15 Ohio State clinging to a five-point lead over Iowa, Deshaun Thomas blocked a layup in the final minute to preserve a 72-63 victory over Iowa on Tuesday night.

Thomas, who scored a game-high 16 points, blocked Mike Gesell's layup, corralled the rebound and sank two free throws to seal the win.

Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. added 12 points each for Ohio State (14-4, 4-2 Big Ten) while Evan Ravenel scored 11 off the bench.

Iowa (13-6, 2-4) was led by Ohio native Aaron White, who scored 13 points to go with seven rebounds.

Led by White and Melsahn Basabe (10 rebounds), the Hawkeyes dominated Ohio State on the boards, but the Buckeyes controlled the offensive glass 22-11 at Value City Arena.

Iowa also forced the Buckeyes into 14 second-half turnovers, but they made up for it with one of their worst performances of the year at the free-throw line.

"We had been so good in that area," said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery whose team shot 50 percent from the line. "We were the best in the league, I think. We missed 13 in a nine-point loss. That's disappointing."

After closing out the first half on a 15-6 run to make it a 12-point game at the break, Ohio State kept the momentum going early in the second half. They came out a 19-7 run keyed by Thomas, who had managed only five points in the first half.

"The first 20 minutes of the game we were as effective offensively and defensively as we have been," OSU coach Thad Matta said. "Then some odd things happened. In the league we are in right now we take the wins and celebrate them, but we need to look at how to better ourselves."

Thomas looked like he was finally starting to find that familiar rhythm when an errant elbow caught him just inside the temple area around his right eye. He was bleeding on the floor and had to go to the locker room with Ohio State leading Iowa 53-36.

He returned with less than eight minutes to play. By then, Ohio State's lead had been cut to 14, at 54-40.

Iowa freshman Anthony Clemens drained a 3-pointer to make it an eight-point game with less than six minutes to play and White cut it to five with a jumper at the 2:33 mark.

"We had been pressuring them before but it was a little more effective with the big lineup. Once we got a couple steals, we got them a little bit sideways with their offense," McCaffery said.

"By scrambling a little bit and pressing and trapping, there were a couple turnovers and a couple run-outs, and some easy baskets. That's how you have to do it."

Ohio State's lead would eventually get down to four, forcing Thad Matta to call timeout with 1:17 to play in the game. About 20 seconds later, Thomas stopped Gesell and sparked a 9-4 run for the Buckeyes to close out the game.

"We have been this way before in terms of searching for an identity," Matta said. "I have been in games like this before, where we have our moments. We are searching for consistence. I'll take consistency over greatness."

The Buckeyes owned a 34-22 lead at intermission.

With his first steal of the game off White, Craft became Ohio State's all-time career leader with 205 steals.

"The steal record is great but that's not going to win us basketball games," Craft said. "It's a great honor but we have much more to worry about than individual awards."

Craft would spend the last eight minutes of the first half on the bench after picking up his second foul. Backup Shannon Scott keyed a 15-6 run to close out the first half against visiting Iowa.

Thomas had just five points in the first half after scoring 28 during the Buckeyes' 59-56 loss in East Lansing. Matta got eight points from Smith along with seven points and five rebounds from LaQuinton Ross, who came off the bench to give them some good minutes in the first half.

The Buckeyes connected on four of their first five shots to take an early 8-5 lead. The Hawkeyes started just 3-14 from the floor in their first game since upsetting Wisconsin 70-66 on Saturday.

Iowa did hold an 11-10 edge at the under-12 timeout thanks to some early physicality on the boards. The Hawkeyes out-rebounded Ohio State 23-15 in the first half, including an impressive 11-2 edge on the offensive glass. They turned that into 10 second chance points, but that accounted for nearly half of their first half offense.

The Buckeyes held Iowa to just 8 of 32 shooting in the first half, including a 3 of 10 on 3-pointers, and the Hawkeyes shot just over 35 percent as a team for the game. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes shot nearly 54 percent in the first half and 52 percent for the game. They also made 14 of their 19 free throws, which turned out to be the difference down the stretch.

NOTES: The previous Ohio State steals leader was Jay Burson (1986-89). ... Craft has now recorded at least one steal in 13-consecutive games. He played only 12 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. ... After scoring 28 points on 10-of-20 shooting in the loss at Michigan State on Saturday, Thomas was limited to five points in the first half of Tuesday. He scored 11 in the second half to finish with a game-high 16 points. ... Sophomore center Amir Williams recorded a career-high six blocked shots.
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