Connor McCaffery’s big night lifts Iowa men’s basketball over Ohio State

The Hawkeyes avenged a January loss to the Buckeyes Thursday night, defeating Ohio State, 92-75, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.


Matt Sindt

Iowa guard Connor McCaffery fist bumps head coach Fran McCaffery during a men’s basketball game between Iowa and Ohio State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Buckeyes, 92-75. Connor McCaffery had 13 assists.

Chris Werner, Assistant Sports Editor

The Iowa men’s basketball team defeated Ohio State, 92-75, Thursday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena to avenge their loss to the Buckeyes on Jan 21.

Oho State led, 36-35, with 2:20 to go in the first half, but Iowa ended the half on a 12-0 run to head to the locker room up by 11. 

The Hawkeyes counted 3-pointers from forward Connor McCaffery, guard Peyton Sandfort, forward Kris Murray, and guard Tony Perkins during that stretch. 

“Our speech in the huddle before we came back out for that stretch was to just keep pushing it, keep running, keep driving, attacking,” Perkins said. “They were letting us shoot, so we just knocked down shots.”

McCaffery assisted on each of the threes that he didn’t make — counting three of his career-high 13 assists on the night. 

Connor McCaffery’s pièce de assistance

McCaffery has been described as a coach on the floor, who knows everything there is to know about Iowa’s playbook, and he said he was in a “different zone” on Thursday night. 

“There are definitely times when you are in the zone as a passer, just like as a shooter,” McCaffery said. “Just seeing things, seeing cutters. I have to credit my teammates, as well, because if they are not cutting, if they are not running in transition or making shots, that doesn’t happen. Tonight, all those things were happening, so I was pretty locked in.”

The graduate student tallied 13 helpers — good for the fifth most in a single game in school history —  and no turnovers, along with seven points and six rebounds in 35 minutes of action. 

McCaffery was also vital defensively, playing down low in Iowa’s “small-ball” lineup when center Filip Rebraca was out because of foul trouble. 

“I said to Connor after the game, I have never seen [13 assists and zero turnovers,] Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “Really impressive game by him on a number of different levels. He just calmed everybody down, drove it, got in the bonus, flashed in the high post when they went zone, and just made plays from there. He brings it up against the press, guarding really good players. He was spectacular tonight.”

Connor currently leads the NCAA with a 4.04 assist/turnover ratio. 

Hawkeyes ratchet up defensive intensity

The Hawkeyes stressed better defensive pressure before Thursday’s matchup with the Buckeyes, and they followed through on the game plan. 

In Iowa’s loss to Ohio State earlier this season, the Hawkeyes lost the turnover battle 14-11, were outscored 50-32 in the paint, and allowed the Buckeyes to shoot 56 percent from the field. 

On Thursday, Iowa turned Ohio State over 14 times and committed seven giveaways, and outscored the buckeyes, 44-36, in the paint. 

Although Ohio State shot roughly the same percentage Thursday as it did on Jan. 21, Iowa put up 16 more shots than the visitors in Iowa City. 

“I thought we locked into personnel a little bit better,” Connor said. “I thought that we definitely knew who we were guarding, knew what they wanted to do. Stuck to some player tendencies, some scouting report things, just attention to detail. And then when we did get stops, we strung them together.”

Big picture

The victory moves Iowa to 9-6 in league play and 17-9 overall. The Hawks, who are tied for third place in the Big Ten, have won five of their last six and nine of their last 12.

Iowa began the Big Ten slate 0-3.

Connor said Iowa’s run stemmed from its response to a couple of early-season defeats. 

“I don’t know if it’s a swag or like a bit of an arrogance or confidence,” Connor said. “When you lose the way we did when Kris was out [against Duke] was out. And then like, when I didn’t play against Eastern [Illinois], when you lose those kinds of games, that’s where you see kind of teams separate themselves versus collapse, but we never really wavered.”

Up next

Iowa will take on the Northwestern Wildcats on Feb. 19 in Evanston, Illinois, at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The ‘Cats are in second place in the Big Ten at 10-5 in league play and 19-7 overall. Northwestern is on a four-game win streak — all versus ranked opponents. Iowa beat the Wildcats, 86-70, on Jan. 31 in Iowa City.

“I’m excited,” Connor said. “I mean, that’s a good team. They got veteran guys, they got really good guards. They defend. They really guard. And, I know here we kind of got hot at the end. So they’re gonna be on a revenge tour, definitely.”