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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The final two weeks of the regular season seemed to show a seismic shift in the way the Iowa men’s basketball team executed defensively.
No matter if it was zone or man-to-man defense, if it was on the glass or in help defense, the Hawkeyes played — to borrow the term Coach Fran McCaffery uses often — connected.
That changed drastically on Thursday night at Verizon Center, as Iowa fell in lopsided fashion to Indiana, 95-73. The Hawkeyes looked far more like the team that lost to Nebraska-Omaha than they did the one that beat Maryland in College Park or Wisconsin in Madison en route to their fourth straight one-and-done Big Ten Tournament exit.
McCaffery was frank about that after the game. There was no reason to sugarcoat it.
“I think what I feel bad for is the way we played tonight is the way we were playing earlier in the year. That’s why we were struggling,” McCaffery said. “Today we sort of reverted back and were making some of the mistakes we made earlier in the year with quick-shooting the ball. We weren’t moving it side-to-side, weren’t driving to closeouts; defensively we were staring at the ball, which is what young teams do, and they don’t see what’s going on away from the ball. Whether we were man or zone, we weren’t connected. There wasn’t the communication you need.
“I think Indiana had a lot to do with it. They were making shots. They had a lot of different people making 3s, and they were really physical — (Thomas) Bryant and (De’Ron) Davis in particular in the post. Those guys are big and they gave us some problems.”
Indiana (18-14) made shots, all right.
The Hoosiers shot 60.3 percent from the field Thursday night and 60 percent from 3-point range, including 67.9 percent overall and 75 percent from deep in the second half alone. They out-rebounded the Hawkeyes 38-29 and while only six of those rebounds were offensive, it was because they didn’t miss many that would lead to offensive rebounding chances. Indiana outscored Iowa 46-32 in the paint and 35-17 off the bench.
The Hoosiers made multiple runs on the Hawkeyes, and to the first-half run, Iowa was able to respond — the others, not so much. Iowa found itself down as much as 31 in the second half and there was no coming back.
None of the Hawkeyes in the locker room used inexperience as an excuse for what happened at Verizon Center. At this point, even if it’s the first time in a tournament atmosphere, the Hawkeyes had played enough basketball at this level to theoretically be able to handle whatever came their way.
“We all knew what we had to do. I think we just didn’t execute the way we were supposed to do, and you saw what happened,” freshman forward Tyler Cook said. “It happens fast, especially with a team that shoots so well from the 3-point line. Those things add up quick. It’s a tie game and they get three or four 3s to fall and you look up and you’re down double digits. It happens fast.”
It looked like Iowa was on its way to executing just fine to begin the game. Jordan Bohannon made his first five 3-pointers and in responding to the first half Indiana runs, Iowa showed early poise.
Bohannon finished with a career-high-tying 24 points on 6-of-11 shooting from deep, and added a career-high 10 assists. Cordell Pemsl finished with a double-double as well, with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Cook, who had finished the regular season on a tear, dealt with foul trouble most of the game and finished with eight points and seven rebounds while being limited to 20 minutes.
Senior Peter Jok never really got going. He had 11 points, but was 5 of 13 from the field. Nicholas Baer also had an “uncharacteristic game for him,” McCaffery said, finishing with three points and no rebounds in 21 minutes.
That the Hawkeyes got this result — and so emphatically — was a mix of both frustration and disappointment for a team that very likely saw its NCAA Tournament bubble burst. Baer said, “obviously everyone knew the stakes. Obviously this is disappointing.”
There was no wool pulled over their eyes. They all said they knew what was coming.
Iowa just didn’t get it done like it had the four games previously. Now the Hawkeyes are left wanting while they wait on whatever postseason berth is in store.
“We knew going from non-conference to conference play there was a step up in intensity. We knew going from conference play to the Big Ten Tournament there would be a step up in intensity,” Pemsl said. “When you see teams score as quickly as they were, you kind of want to come down and do the same thing they were and match them. The matching game wasn’t working for us. When you’re missing and they’re making shots, it takes the energy out of you. It was more of a game where they took us out of our rhythm and we didn’t know what to do at that point.
“It’s just disappointing to know that three of the top four teams, we beat, but we weren’t able to make it out of the first round.”
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