COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was the worst of times, it was the best of times. Then it was overtime, and then it was over.
"A Tale of Two Halves" is the simplified version of 10th-seed Iowa’s 83-77 NCAA men’s basketball tournament second-round loss to No. 2-seed Tennessee Sunday at Nationwide Arena. The Hawkeyes were way down, came all the way back, then got outplayed in the OT to lose. They got knocked out of the tourney, but they didn’t get flattened.
No one watching the CBS telecast of this game would have suggested Iowa would even make it close in the second half. None of them were in the Hawkeyes’ locker room.
“We came out and we got punched and we didn’t really respond very well,” Iowa center Ryan Kriener said. “So we regrouped, we went to work. It all boiled down to 20 minutes to do it or not, to respond to that call.”
The second half was Iowa 43, Tennessee 22. It was extra basketball for a national TV audience that, an hour earlier, never could have dreamed it would want five more minutes of this.
The overtime lacked a storybook element, however. The Volunteers scored the first seven points, didn’t falter, and will take a 31-5 record with them when they play Purdue Thursday in the Sweet 16. Iowa goes home 23-12, aching and prideful at the same time.
“It hurts,” Iowa’s Tyler Cook said. “It hurts bad. To be so close to pulling that off and moving to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 20 years for the school, to see how much it meant to everybody in this locker room — you could look into everybody’s eyes in timeouts and everybody from Jordan (Bohannon) to (walk-on) Austin Ash was locked in.
“To come up short like that, man, that stings.”
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The first half was the worst of times for the Hawkeyes. Admiral Schofield made 3-pointers on Tennessee’s first two possessions, and the Vols were up 20-9 by the first TV timeout. It became 34-14 and 44-19. Bohannon made two free throws with three seconds left in the half to pull the Hawkeyes within ... 21 points.
At halftime, this felt nothing like Iowa’s first-round win over Cincinnati, when it rallied from a 13-point first-half hole for a 79-72 win. In that one, the Hawkeyes exerted their will in cutting their halftime deficit to five points, and looked very much alive.
This? This was a first-half abyss, which a team of Tennessee’s caliber has put so many opponents in this season. Eight minutes into the game, Iowa was without an assist, a block, a steal or a made free throw. The Vols went inside and out for baskets while yielding little. This looked like the third-straight mismatch for Iowa in the second round of an NCAA tourney, with the Hawkeyes on the wrong side for the third-straight time.
Then, junior Bohannon said, “We came up huge at the defensive end in the second half. I think it was the best defense we’ve played since I’ve been here, the best 20 minutes.”
“They (the Vols) were in a very comfortable place offensively in the first half,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “We made it very uncomfortable in the second half, which gave us more confidence on the offensive end.”
Tennessee was held to 33.3 percent shooting from the field after halftime and turned the ball over 11 times. Iowa pulled within single-digits before six minutes elapsed. When it was 61-53, senior Nicholas Baer tracked down an offensive rebound and fed Bohannon for 3-pointer with 8:12 left.
“That just typifies who Nicholas Baer is,” McCaffery said. “It changed everything.”
The Hawkeyes had the same looks in their eyes that they had in the second half against Cincinnati. Bohannon was fouled in the act of shooting a 3-pointer and made all three free throws to tie the game at 67 with 2:39 left. But Tennessee was up 71-67 with 57 seconds to go.
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Iowa’s Isaiah Moss scored off a drive, Schofield quick-shot and missed a 3-pointer and Moss rebounded. Hawkeye freshman Joe Wieskamp was fouled and made both ends of a one-and-one for a 71-71 tie with 20.8 seconds remaining, and the Hawkeyes got a defensive stop to force overtime.
It took a truly fine team to not be too shaken to return to form in the extra five minutes. Grant Williams, the two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, scored six points in the first 3:01 of overtime. The Vols survived, barely, and advanced.
“This will serve as motivation in the future,” Iowa sophomore forward Luka Garza said, “I told some guys we’re going to be right back here next year, but on the other side. We’re going to be winning.”
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