IOWA CITY — "Where’s Johnson?"
That was a question Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery asked after Saturday afternoon’s game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and during it.
He knew the answer in both situations, of course. Robert Johnson, a 6-foot-3 Indiana senior guard, was on the basketball floor. And wide open.
The Hawkeyes trailed 60-59 with 14 minutes left. Justin Smith converted a three-point play for Indiana. Then Johnson made a 3-point shot. And another. And another. And it was 72-59 with 11:06 to go.
McCaffery didn’t go all red-faced, clipboard-smacking, drill sergeant-yelling during a timeout in the middle of that 12-0 Indiana run. He did do so with 16:35 left, though, after Devonte Green stuck a 3-pointer to tie the game.
Iowa eventually mustered a big comeback, tied the game at 82, and had a chance for a tie or win after it called time with nine seconds remaining. But Jordan Bohannon missed a 3-pointer, Tyler Cook missed a follow-up jumper, and the Hawkeyes had an 84-82 loss.
The Hawkeyes’ season isn’t just a broken record now. It’s a record that’s been broken, run over by a forklift, then stomped on by an elephant.
It’s losing to the tune of 3-13 in the Big Ten, and it’s yet again getting scorched by opponents’ 3-point shooting. Some “Seinfeld” episodes haven’t been seen as often as this.
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Indiana came in here making a nothing-special 32.4 percent of its 3-pointers in Big Ten games. It hit 14 of 24 Saturday.
Johnson is a fine player, but had made a total of eight 3s over his previous five games. Saturday, he became the first player to make nine in Carver since Iowa’s Chris Kingsbury did it twice ... in 1994.
So Johnson tied the individual single-game record here. Purdue set the arena’s team mark on Jan. 20 when it popped in 20 of 33 3s.
Iowa’s Big Ten opponents have made 42.7 percent of their 3-pointers. That’s abysmal defense, and it hasn’t gotten any better by Game No. 29.
“We committed to zone the last two games,” McCaffery said. “Clearly, it hasn’t worked.”
As in Iowa’s previous three home games, two double-digit wins and a one-possession loss to Michigan State, there was much to like about the Hawkeyes’ play. Jumping to a 23-10 lead with aggressive offense that began with the first 10 shots going in was great. Rallying from that 72-59 deficit to give itself a chance to win was, too.
But this historically poor Iowa defense is Saturday’s story, and the story of this tedious season. It will all be over soon.
At least this game was entertaining. There was no surrender from the Hawkeyes, especially from Cook. He had 28 points and 10 rebounds, and was the motor in Iowa’s comeback. Three of his scores in the last five minutes came after offensive rebounds.
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His final rebound was with two seconds left after Bohannon missed a 3-pointer. Cook hurried up a jumper off the glass from just outside the paint. It never touched the rim, and Cook was hunched over with his hands on his head in disappointment afterward.
“I wasn’t sure how much time was left,” Cook said. “I tried to get it on the rim and I failed to do so.
“I’m more disappointed with myself, not knowing how much time was on the clock. That’s solely on me. I should have been able to get a better look.”
Technically, yes. But Cook didn’t have time to get fancy, and did well just to give himself a chance to send the game to overtime.
The sophomore isn’t without holes in his game. His defense, like everyone’s on his team, needs work. He’s had games where he wasn’t anything resembling dominant. He had five turnovers Saturday and has a team-high 67 this season.
But Iowa hasn’t had a lot of Tyler Cooks over the years. It would feel like such a waste if he never got to play on a good team here.
Until this team fully grasps some basic defensive principles, however, March will be a month that keeps belonging to someone else.
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