Ohio State 73, Iowa 69
CHICAGO — Another game against a lower-ranked Big Ten team, another loss for Iowa.
The Hawkeyes made their trip to Chicago a short one, dropping a heartbreaker to Ohio State, 73-69. Filip Rebraca led the Hawkeyes with 20 points and 7 rebounds, but inconsistent shooting from the rest of the team doomed hopes of taking what would have been a welcome victory against the back half of the Big Ten.
Instead, it's back to Iowa City, falling to 2-6 for the year against the lowest four teams in the Big Ten. With that persistent underperformance, it'll be cold comfort for the Hawkeyes that every other higher seed has lost as well in the Big Ten Tournament through four games.
"We got open looks that we wanted to get, they just weren't falling," said Kris Murray after the game. Murray was just 2-for-8 from deep in the loss, finishing with 17 points in what was otherwise a strong performance.
"I thought we took good [shots]," McCaffery said. "I wasn't saying 'Hey, that was a bad shot.' I want the guys to shoot threes, they just didn't go."
Even with the cold shooting, both teams kept the game competitive for all 40 minutes. The score was a meager 29-28 at the break, and that portended an even closer second half; neither team led by more than 4 points after the break, and each time one team pushed the margin to four, the other scored on the ensuing possession — the lone exception Patrick McCaffery's desperation three-pointer coming up short in the final seconds.
It's a familiar pattern from the Hawkeyes' regular-season finale, when Nebraska stayed in the game by scoring on nearly every trip down the floor (2.18 points per possession) every time Iowa went up by 4 or more points.
And just like the Nebraska game, it was Iowa's opponents making the clutch shots while the Hawkeyes struggled down the stretch.
Roddy Gayle Jr., a recent addition to the Buckeyes' starting lineup, put in a closing performance for the ages with all nine of his points coming in the last 6:05 of action. His three-pointer gave the Buckeyes a 64-61 lead with 3:28 left, and Iowa never got the last push needed to bring the game back in its favor.
STUCK IN LOW GEAR
This was hardly Iowa's worst offensive performance of the season; the Hawkeyes were shooting above or near 50% for the balance of the game — but turnovers and an inability to string together a run reared their head too often.
"in a game like this, 11 turnovers is too many," said McCaffery after the loss.
Iowa forced only 8 turnovers on the other end — and worse, scored only 8 points off of them, including some empty fast breaks that could have ignited a rowdy Iowa fan contingent at the United Center.
And yet, what was perhaps the most damaging instance of not converting these chances wasn't a turnover at all.
With 20 seconds left and Iowa down 2 points, the Hawkeyes locked in their full court press in hopes of causing a turnover. "We just tried to deny the ball, get steals, get a quick basket and tie the game," said Tony Perkins.
The ball fell loose several times, with an extended scrum taking the ball to the far baseline of the court. Iowa was never able to corral the ball to call a timeout or force a jump ball, and while the play was eventually blown dead on a phantom kick-ball call, even in the best of circumstances Murray's attempt to save the ball just sent it out of bounds closer to mid-court.
"I thought we should have jumped on the ball at the end and called timeout when the arrow is our way," McCaffery said. "I think we thought we had it, and we fumbled it again."
It was a tantalizing and maddening sequence, especially with the game on the line, and emblematic of the game as a whole. The effort was there; the execution wasn't.
SIXTH MAN OUT
Newly crowned Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Payton Sandfort saw just 15 minutes of action Thursday, finishing with an uncharacteristic four points. Sandfort was hampered by two quick fouls in the first half — the merits of both being debatable at best.
The second foul landed Sandfort in McCaffery's well-documented "two-foul jail" for the rest of the first half, but McCaffery did acknowledge the thought of bringing Sandfort back early.
"He was really frustrated, everybody saw that, and that was really unfortunate for him," McCaffery said. "We had a pretty decent defensive effort going on, we had our defensive guys out there a little more — and I want him to be able to play loose and get going in the second half. It just didn't happen."
McCaffery's read could well have been correct; the last thing Iowa needed in a high-stakes game like this was a key rotation player shooting and defending on tilt. Nonetheless, Sandfort's first-half absence likely contributed to Iowa's inability to score at its regular pace early, and a more productive first half on the scoreboard would have made this a more winnable game.
Iowa will learn its fate with the rest of the NCAA Tournament field on Selection Sunday, which airs on CBS at 5:00 pm CT.
Iowa is widely expected to make the tournament field without any serious bubble drama, but how the committee reacts to the two-game losing streak to end the season will be worth watching.
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