Iowa basketball loss to Penn State amplifies search for answers

Hawkeyes unsure why scouting report, game plan isn't translating; suffer fourth loss in 5 games

IOWA CITY — Another 40 minutes of college basketball, another somber postgame for the Iowa men’s basketball team. This time it was a 77-73 loss to Penn State to open Big Ten play and fall to 4-4 overall.

For the fourth time in the last five games, the Hawkeyes were left frustrated and seething about too many turnovers, a slow start defensively, breakdowns in key moments and a lack of consistency overall.

For the fourth time in the last five games, the Hawkeyes left saying they believe they’re close and showed signs of what they can be when they put it together.

For the fourth time in the last five games, the Hawkeyes couldn’t answer why it’s happening — why they can practice the game plan solidly and have it fail to translate onto the floor.

“I just don’t think we’re fully committed to taking that scouting report and using it in the game,” forward Cordell Pemsl said. “This isn’t a joke. This isn’t just fun and games. We’re out here to win games. We need it to start translating better.

“I think that’s the most frustrating part, in not knowing why we do it. It’s so frustrating. If we come together and understand where we want to be in a few months, hopefully we can get on track.”

The Nittany Lions started the game with 14 points in their first six possessions. Before everyone had taken their seats at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa found itself down 10 to a team that had lost 12 straight on the Hawkeyes’ home floor coming into Saturday.

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Penn State entered the game one of the best in the nation at forcing turnovers and getting steals, ranked fourth in steal percentage and 16th in turnover percentage on KenPom.com.

Still, Iowa’s 18 turnovers were as vital to the loss as anything else that happened Saturday, and several of those gifts to Penn State came in crucial moments. The Hawkeyes’ defense started poorly, as described by Coach Fran McCaffery, but settled in and got what would’ve been a few key stops at several points of the second half. Iowa was within three points seven times, and each time, the Hawkeyes either forced a rushed shot or turned the ball over, and that stop that preceded the mistake didn’t happen again.

“I thought our decision making at times was really poor,” McCaffery said. “Our defense in the first half was unacceptable. But, I thought there were some good things. Second-half defense was better. Second-half ball movement was a lot better. We made a couple runs. I thought we kept fighting, that was good.

“We just have to be better with our execution in a lot of ways, and that’s one of them.”

The stats from Saturday backed up what McCaffery described as his biggest concern right now for this team: consistency.

Tyler Cook led Iowa with 23 points, 12 rebounds and four assists — three of those points coming on a highlight-reel and-1 dunk in the second half. Cook also had five turnovers, four of which came in the first half. He was 9 of 13 from the free throw line, leaving a couple points there late in the game. Isaiah Moss had 13 points, three rebounds and two assists, and his 3-pointer with 4:07 to go cut it to 67-64 and seemed to be a potential turning point. Moss also had four turnovers, three of which came in the second half.

Cook and Moss having half the team’s turnovers doesn’t mean they, as individuals, cost the Hawkeyes the game by themselves. But they are in positions to be go-to players, and they both acknowledged their needing to come through.

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McCaffery said the “disappointing thing, I think, with this group is we had guys, most of those guys have done that. They have been consistent, they have been connected, and they’re not right now. So we’ve got to do a better job of coaching them up.” To do that, he said, will take a mix of the build-them-up and kick-in-the-behind approaches.

Pemsl said it’s not about what “Coach does right now. It’s about what we do as a unit. If we take what Coach says to us and do something with that information, we’ll be OK. But right now, as a team, we’re in our own world.”

No one has pointed fingers in these four losses — at least not at anyone but themselves. If a slow start followed by a rebound last year is to be mirrored after another slow start this year, the Hawkeyes said they have to do more than just talk about doing it.

“There’s only so much talking you can do; only so much yelling,” Cook said. “At some point, the guys on the floor have to realize what we’ve got to do to make changes. Coach has tried to yell at us, he’s tried to not yell at us. We’ve had guys within the team speak up. I’m not saying that should stop happening, but at some point we’ve got to put words into action.”

Iowa gets one day of preparation before heading to Bloomington, Ind., to play Indiana at Assembly Hall on Monday. The game tips off at 7 p.m. on BTN.

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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