IOWA CITY - No Reggie Evans, no Jared Reiner, little help from Luke Recker.
What had all the makings of a disastrous scenario for Iowa instead turned into one of the Hawkeyes' more inspired performances of the season.
Not that it changed the outcome. Iowa lost again, falling to No. 23 Ohio State 72-66 on Saturday for its fourth straight loss and eighth in 10 games.
But coach Steve Alford, who benched Evans for skipping class, walked away from the game feeling much better about his team.
"The last several games I've had a sick feeling in my stomach that I didn't like," Alford said. "If I have to lose, this is how I want to lose. This is something we can build on. We played hard and with passion.
"If we can build on this, I'll sleep better."
Reiner, usually the starting center, couldn't play because of a sprained ankle. Recker did not start, played only 18 minutes and scored just three points. He missed a key part of the game after cutting himself above the right eye diving for a loose ball, a gash that required 10 stitches.
Alford started five players who had nine previous starts among them this season. That group included senior Rod Thompson, who had played the fewest minutes on the team but led the Hawkeyes with 15 points.
Thompson was joined by Brody Boyd, Chauncey Leslie, Scott Sonderleiter and Ryan Hogan.
"We came out with passion and enthusiasm, and that's what we've got to do every game," Boyd said.
Boyd, Thompson and the others helped Iowa build an 11-point lead in the first half. The Hawkeyes led by three with less than seven minutes to play, but Ohio State rallied behind veteran guards Boban Savovic, Brian Brown and Brent Darby.
That trio scored the Buckeyes' final 12 points. Savovic finished with 15 points to lead Ohio State. Brown scored 14 and Darby 13.
"Ohio State could easily end up being the Big Ten champions and we didn't let them run away from us," Alford said. "We're encouraged by that."
Thompson finally was rewarded for sticking it out when he wasn't playing much. It was his first start since he was a sophomore and he matched his career high in points.
"I thought about it last night. I just envisioned myself doing all types of moves on those guys," Thompson said. "So when it comes to the game, the moves that I did it was like, man, I'm used to this. I was expecting that to happen and it happened."
Boyd scored 11 points and Duez Henderson, usually a starter, came off the bench to get 10 for the Hawkeyes, now assured of their third straight losing record in the Big Ten.
Three regular-season games remain - at Wisconsin on Tuesday night, home against Michigan and at Michigan State.
"I never thought it would end up like this," Recker said. "My fifth year of college basketball and I've struggled this year, both individually and team-wise, more than I ever have. That's hard to take."