MINNEAPOLIS — Depending on your perspective, it was either amazing Minnesota offense or lousy Iowa defense. Or maybe it was just a lot of both.
In spite of it all, the Hawkeyes still had a chance to win a tight Big Ten Conference battle down the stretch Tuesday. And didn’t.
They blew an early 11-point lead, then cut a late 13-point deficit to two, but the end result was their first two-game losing streak of the season with a 95-89 defeat Tuesday at Williams Arena.
“We just needed to dig down and get some stops,” said Iowa point guard Mike Gesell, who attempted a season-high 15 shots. “They shot the ball tremendously well, and we were still in the ballgame at the end. We just had to make a few more plays.”
The Hawkeyes didn’t. It’s an all-too-familiar script, much like last year’s narrow losses that kept them outside the NCAA Tournament. And much like Saturday’s 79-74 loss against Wisconsin, when Iowa failed to get a key stop, up one, in the final minute.
This loss hurt a little more, though, in terms of postseason implications. Iowa’s previous seven losses had come to teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. This one came against a reeling, unranked Gophers bunch that had lost six of eight games and scored less than 50 points in their last two.
Tuesday, Minnesota (18-11, 7-9 in the Big Ten) scored 51 by halftime. And it kept up the hot shooting just long enough to dispatch the 20th-ranked Hawkeyes (19-8, 8-6).
“You’ve got to give credit to both the teams we’ve lost to the past two games,” said Iowa’s Aaron White, who scored 21 points. “Wisconsin shot the ball well. Minnesota shot the ball well.”
Did it ever. Despite missing its final six shots, Minnesota ended the night making 30-of-49 attempts (61 percent), including 11-of-19 3-pointers (58 percent). Many of those shots were lightly challenged at best. Minnesota had shot 37 percent and 35 percent it its previous two games.
Still, Iowa had a chance to steal one, even though Austin Hollins — the guy who drilled a 3-pointer with 11.6 seconds left a year ago here to rip out Hawkeye hearts in a 62-59 Minnesota win — scored a career-high 27 points.
White’s baseline 3-pointer sliced Minnesota’s lead to 80-76 with 3 minutes, 25 seconds to go.
A conventional 3-point play by Devyn Marble, who scored 24 points (19 in the first half) to lead the Hawkeyes after not scoring here a year ago, trimmed the gap to 82-80 with 1:30 left.
But a pair of free throws by DeAndre Mathieu, followed by an air-balled Josh Oglesby 3-pointer, put the Hawkeyes in scramble mode.
Now Iowa will have to pick up the pieces quickly. The players seemed glad that they were traveling directly to Bloomington, Ind., afterward to play Indiana on Thursday in an ESPN-televised makeup game.
“That’s the beauty of basketball. It’s the opposite of football, where you have to wait another week to go out and play,” said Oglesby, who started in place of Melsahn Basabe (stomach illness) and scored 16 points. “We get to play in two nights, which will be good.”
The implications of this loss could linger. With two consecutive losses, Iowa has dropped from third to a tie for fifth in the Big Ten standings. The top four seeds get first-round byes in the March 13-16 Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
“We’re upset. We don’t like to lose,” Gesell said. “But we’ve got to remain positive, because we’ve got a quick turnaround.”
For a while, it looked like Iowa might coast to a fourth consecutive Big Ten road victory and 20th overall. A five-point possession — a 3 by Marble and two free throws from Zach McCabe — gave Iowa a 32-21 lead.
But the Gophers reeled off 30 points in a matter of 7 minutes. Hollins was 4-of-4 from 3-point land in the first half.
“I was just really feeling it,” Hollins explained. “I had a few open looks, and I was taken over with confidence.”
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery tried to make some defensive changes.
“It’s not as much strategy sometimes as much as you just change to see if the change works,” he said.
None of the adjustments slowed the Gophers’ hot shooting.
“It came easy for us early,” McCaffery said. “We were up nine, and we didn’t lock in defensively then like I think we should have. All of a sudden, you look up and we’re down 10. Now they were on fire. I get that, and the crowd got into it. But you’ve got to adjust.”
Now, a game for the suddenly reeling Hawkeyes at beleaguered Indiana (5-9 in the conference) has more urgency.
“We’ve just got to worry about Indiana,” Oglesby said, “and put this behind us.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball