IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Ohio State's still undefeated, even though the Buckeyes aren't playing defense like they will need to if they want to keep winning in the Big Ten.
Imagine how good the second-ranked Buckeyes can be once they put it together on both ends of the court.
Freshman Jared Sullinger had 24 points and 12 rebounds and No. 2 Ohio State rallied to overtake Iowa 73-68 on Tuesday night and survive their closest test yet.
Jon Diebler added 14 points for the Buckeyes (15-0, 2-0 Big Ten), who have won five straight over the Hawkeyes for the first time in school history.
But Ohio State, which hadn't let anyone get within 10 points all season, let Iowa cut a 13-point lead to 71-68 on Zach McCabe's 3-pointer with 24 seconds left. Freshman Aaron Craft bailed out the Buckeyes with two free throws and a steal to put the upset-minded Hawkeyes away.
Still, the defensive lapses that popped up in an 85-67 win at Indiana on New Year's Eve resurfaced against the Hawkeyes. That's a concern for Buckeyes coach Thad Matta, who's otherwise had little to complain about this season.
"There were times [Tuesday] where it was really, really good," Matta said of his team's defensive effort. "Statistically we were pretty good ... but standard-wise it wasn't good enough."
Ohio State had major trouble early with Iowa (7-7, 0-2) and trailed 35-29 at halftime. But the Buckeyes opened the second half with a 29-10 run -- then hung on as the Hawkeyes made one final push.
Freshman Melsahn Basabe matched Sullinger with a breakout night by scoring a career-high 22 points with 13 rebounds and six blocks for the Hawkeyes, the only team in the conference with a .500 record.
"I think you're seeing him blossom in terms of his versatility," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Basabe. "There's so much more in there than I think he even realizes."
It was surprising to see the Buckeyes down six points at halftime. It was even less shocking to see them erase that deficit in less than 3 minutes.
Ohio State simply pounded it inside to Sullinger for three inside baskets from roughly the same spot to take their first lead, 38-36. Iowa kept it close for a bit, but the Buckeyes pushed it to 51-45 on Dallas Lauderdale's tip-in as the Hawkeyes struggled to knock down the shots they had been making.
Sullinger had 11 points in the first 8 1/2 minutes of the second half, helping the Buckeyes build a lead they nearly frittered away.
"We had a stretch where it seemed like we couldn't score, and then our defense fell off just enough," McCaffery said. "Sullinger was killing us."
Diebler then delivered two crushing blows, following a 3 from the wing with a contested one from the corner to make it a 13-point game with 8:40 to go. In the end, those shots proved crucial as Iowa simply wouldn't go away.
"What was said at halftime of this game was that we didn't play defense. We didn't care about offense. We win games by defense, and our defense obviously wasn't clicking," Sullinger said. "Our intensity on the defensive end was not there."
It was just the second halftime deficit of the season for Ohio State. The Buckeyes blew past Florida in the second half for a 93-75 win in Gainesville on Nov. 16, but this one proved to be much tougher.
Even the most ardent Ohio State fans had to have their attention divided since the Buckeyes and Arkansas kicked off in the Sugar Bowl about 30 minutes before the start of the basketball game.
Those who didn't see the game missed an unexpectedly close game -- both early and late.
"We started off real slow. We give Iowa credit. They never let up," Lighty said. "They knocked us on our heels, and we had to step it up in the second half on the defensive end."