Ohio State's victory Sunday over Iowa wasn't just important because it came against a top-10 team or because it helped move the Buckeyes closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble.It was also important because, in their second attempt, the Buckeyes learned they can win a game without the services of sophomore forward Jae'Sean Tate. After losing both Tate for the rest of the season and at home to Michigan State by 19 points on Feb. 23, Ohio State was able to right itself for its second top-50 win of the season in four days' worth of preparation.
It's something that might help when the Buckeyes rematch the Spartans on Saturday in East Lansing.
"This was a great win because A., we won the game but B., how we had to win it," coach Thad Matta said afterward. "Being down and fighting and scraping and clawing, we came together. Timeouts got electric. The huddles on the floor were electric. That was something a guy like Jae'Sean Tate usually brought to the table."
Tate has been described in a number of different ways this season. He's the guts guy, the heart and soul of the team and, until he was injured, the team's most effective scorer in Big Ten play. Tate was home after undergoing surgery on the torn labrum in his left shoulder that will sideline him for six months, but Matta and the Buckeyes called him on FaceTime and presented him with the game ball.
They did it not by using new lineups but by dusting off a few that had been dormant for a while. A lineup of Keita Bates-Diop, David Bell, A.J. Harris, Marc Loving and Kam Williams was used for the first time since a lopsided win against Air Force on Dec. 8. A lineup of Bates-Diop, Daniel Giddens, Harris, Loving and Mickey Mitchell was used for the second time all season and first since a win against Penn State on Jan. 25.
Mitchell reprised his role as Tate's replacement in the starting lineup, and that group had a little bit more success than it did against the Spartans. Ohio State's starters outscored Iowa 9-7 in 6:37 after being outscored 20-16 by Michigan State in 8:16.
As a group, though, the Buckeyes found ways to close out the game late and overcome a six-point second-half deficit without their emotional leader.
"We didn't think that we were never going to win a game again just because Jae'Sean was out, but there is some type of confidence boost, beating the caliber of team of Iowa without one of our main guys," Loving said.
During a news conference that lasted less than 90 seconds, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Ohio State looked "pretty much" like the same team as he saw on tape without Tate, adding, "they've got a lot of good players."
It's not enough to predict an Ohio State win in its regular-season closer Saturday at Michigan State. The Spartans are closing in on a top seed in the NCAA Tournament and will be honoring seniors such as Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes, both of whom gave Ohio State problems last week.
But at the very least, the Buckeyes will head north with a boost of confidence that comes with knocking off a top-10 team without arguably their best player.
"It was great to make the plays that we needed to make down the stretch," Matta said. "Keita's block (on Iowa's last possession) was just an extraordinary type of play. Hopefully we can continue to move forward with this young basketball team."
This article was written by Adam Jardy from The Columbus Dispatch and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.