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IOWA CITY — Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz made the phrase "that’s football," famous around these parts in the fall of 2014 when talking about a loss to Nebraska. It’s become a kind of running catchphrase.
On Saturday, Iowa men’s basketball guard Peter Jok went in that direction, with a slight twist. After the Hawkeyes took their third straight loss, this time 70-66 to Illinois, Jok said, “that’s the game of basketball,” when asked about what went wrong in the second half and down the stretch.
For the third straight game, the Hawkeyes looked like they had one within their grasp. For the third straight game, it slipped away — and for the third straight game, it was for a different reason. This time around a solid overall defensive effort was not backed up on offense — especially in the second half.
Sometimes, as Jok and Ferentz (sort of) said, that’s basketball.
“It’s really frustrating. We wanted that win. We had been looking forward to this game (because) we didn’t play well at their house last time,” Jok said. “There were some sloppy plays, starting with me. I had that turnover that turned into a layup on that (right) side. That was a huge turnaround. We didn’t really execute as a team, in the end. I thought we had a couple good looks that didn’t go in with (Nicholas) Baer and Brady (Ellingson), but that’s the game of basketball.”
When Iowa (14-13, 6-8 Big Ten) needed them most, points were not to be had in the final three minutes. Down one with 2:20 to go, Jordan Bohannon missed a pair of free throws, and the Hawkeyes followed that with three straight one-and-done possessions, while Illinois (15-12, 5-9) got a 3 from the corner to take a 65-61 lead. Iowa had two more chances after that to tie the game, but failed to do so.
The looks Jok mentioned were a potential game-tying 3-pointer from Baer with 18 seconds to go and a missed 3 from Ellingson with 40 seconds to go that would’ve gotten the game to within one. Jok also missed a jumper from the right side in that little stretch, too.
Those two or so minutes weren’t all that decided the game, but they ended up a microcosm of the day. It was not unlike the middle of the first half, in which Iowa held Illinois scoreless for nearly four minutes, but couldn’t extend the lead to more than four or five points.
The end result was a mix of good and bad that Iowa was on the wrong end of by the game’s finish.
The Hawkeyes forced 17 turnovers, and the rebounding was even at 35-35, but the Illini shot 55.2 percent in the second half and 42.9 percent from 3-point range. Iowa shot 50 percent in the first half and ended the game 17 of 22 at the free throw line, but shot 26.7 percent from 3-point range in the second half, got those late misses at the line and had just 11 assists to 15 turnovers as a team.
“I think what you do is you look at it as intelligently as possible,” Coach Fran McCaffery said. “What were bad things, well, 55 percent in the second half, and you know, there were some other mistakes that we made, and there’s some mistakes that individuals made that we want to try to make sure they don’t make again; learn from it.
“Same thing if we had won the game. You know, you go back and you say, hey, we did these things really well, but those things we didn’t do well, we’ve got to improve in those areas if we’re going to continue to win. So, nothing changes, really, whether you win or lose there.”
Jok led the Hawkeyes with 16 points and 10 rebounds, Tyler Cook added 14 points and three rebounds, Bohannon had 11 points on 3 of 4 shooting from 3-point range and Baer had eight points and seven rebounds.
Once again, McCaffery talked about using this game as another from which to learn, but it’s hard to not let outcomes like the last three frustrate any team — let alone one with the experience level of Iowa. Cook couldn’t and didn’t want to put Saturday’s loss at any kind of ranking, saying, “they’re all disappointing,” but echoed both Jok and Baer in citing turnovers and other mistakes.
Sometimes that’s basketball.
“We have to limit those turnovers, and then it’s just knocking down shots. I had a good look, Pete had a good look, (Brady) had a good look; it just didn’t go down,” Baer said. “I think any time you’re on a three-game skid, there’s a little bit of frustration. But also knowing we have a lot of season left, when we’re able to put it together we can be really good. We’re not there yet, but when we do put it together, I’m confident we can make a run.”
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