LINCOLN, Neb. — Asked Sunday what being 10-10 in the Big Ten meant, Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery immediately replied "In this league, it’s tremendous."
That may be an exaggeration.
Being 10-6, as the Hawkeyes were four games ago, was very good. Being 10-10 with four straight losses is something less. Especially on the heels of a loss like Sunday’s 93-91 overtime defeat against 13th-place Nebraska at Pinnacle Bank Arena, when the Hawkeyes’ 16-point lead with 17 minutes left vanished, and they lost the grip of the 74-65 advantage they had with 50 seconds left in the second half.
The Cornhuskers scored 20 points in the final 1:39 of the second half to send the game to overtime. That’s tremendous. They stayed sharp in the OT, getting the winning points on a driving basket by freshman Amir Harris with 10.8 seconds left.
Iowa’s last shot was a last-second 3-pointer by Jordan Bohannon that was blocked by Thorir Thorbjarnarson.
Nebraska’s roster was so depleted by injuries and a suspension that Tim Miles had to turn to a sophomore from Iceland whose fourth career blocked shot was a game-saver. Miles also leaned heavily on walk-on senior guard Johnny Trueblood of Omaha, who had six rebounds and four assists after playing a total of 37 minutes in the Huskers’ first 30 games.
Starting forward Isaiah Roby, who scored 23 points, fouled out in the last minute of the second half. Starting senior forward Tanner Borchardt, who joined the Huskers after making the team in a 2015 open tryout, fouled out shortly afterward. No problem. The Huskers had Thorbjarnarson and Trueblood.
Well, they also had senior guards James Palmer Jr. and Glynn Watson Jr. Palmer had 21 points after halftime and a total of 27. Watson made six of his seven 3-pointers after halftime and scored 23. Nice Senior Day.
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Iowa knew those two would do almost all the shooting down the stretch, it just couldn’t stop them. Plus, it didn’t have enough responses at the offensive end.
“Credit to them for hitting some tough shots, some really tough shots,” said Iowa forward Luka Garza, who matched his career-high with 25 points.
“We made free throws but didn’t execute like we wanted to down the stretch,” Garza said. “We didn’t do what was necessary to hold that lead. Eleven turnovers in the second half, you can’t do that and hold on to the lead, especially on the road.”
For so long, this game looked like it would be a tourniquet for the Hawkeyes to apply after losing games by 20, 14 and 20 points in their three previous starts.
“I felt like we dominated most of the night tonight,” Bohannon said. “We had the lead for 38 minutes or so (38:54). They just took it from us.
“They just started making some crazy shots, some contested shots.”
Similar words probably came from players of Northwestern and Indiana after the Hawkeyes had wild flurries down the stretch to catch and pass them at Carver-Hawkeye Arena last month.
But things have evened out. As in 10-10 in the Big Ten.
“It’s an improvement,” Hawkeye forward Tyler Cook said of the record, and yes, it’s a lot better than last season’s 4-14. “But we felt like it should have been a lot better.
“You can’t really come into it expecting to beat everybody because it’s such a great conference, but at the same time you expect yourself to play to the best of your ability. We’ve failed to do that a number of times.”
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Now comes the Big Ten tournament. Iowa will face either Illinois or Northwestern Thursday night in Chicago. Winning two or three games there, now that would be tremendous.
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