Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery discusses a 77-73 home loss to Penn State. Chad Leistikow / The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa men's basketball team didn't lead for a single second of its Big Ten Conference opener Saturday, watching Penn State hit every big shot to walk out of Carver-Hawkeye Arena with a 77-73 victory.
In a second-half sequence that summed up the Hawkeyes' frustration, Cordell Pemsl had a layup roll off the rim, Tyler Cook had a dunk attempt clang off the rim, and Jack Nunge got stripped from behind while driving to the rim. Trailing by three points, Iowa came up empty, as it did all too often when it got within striking distance.
The Hawkeyes cut the Penn State lead to 62-59 seconds after that sequence, only to see a Nicholas Baer 3-point attempt roll out of the basket and Cook subsequently miss the front end of a one-and-one free-throw opportunity.
"We didn't have the best start to the game. They were able to score at will. That's something that has to change for us," Baer said. "When your'e down six or eight points for pretty much the whole game, it definitely is harder to hold the fight."
The Nittany Lions burned Iowa with 12-of-23 3-point shooting and got 22 points from muscular forward Mike Watkins. That dozen amounted to the most 3-pointers the Hawkeyes have allowed this season.
"They packed it in because we haven't shot (well)," Penn State coach Pat Chambers said after his team snapped a 12-game losing streak at Carver-Hawkeye.
Iowa got 23 points and 12 rebounds from Cook but made only four of their 12 3-pointers. Isaiah Moss added 13 points and Cordell Pemsl had 10 off the bench for the Hawkeyes.
Penn State (7-2, 1-0 Big Ten) opened the game by scoring on six consecutive possessions and taking a 14-4 lead. Iowa (4-4, 0-1) chipped away but could never get closer than 20-19 in the half. That score was also the closest the Hawkeyes got in the game, despite cutting the deficit to two points on four occasions late.
The Nittany Lions made four consecutive free throws to hold off the Hawkeyes.
"When you can't seem to chop away at the lead and time is running out, anybody is going to get a little nervous or down," Cook said. "But as young men we've just got to look at it as a challenge."
The Nittany Lions made seven of their 12 3-pointers in the first half, while the Hawkeyes struggled to string together productive offensive possessions. Cook had 13 points and five rebounds in the opening half, but also four of his team’s nine turnovers. Iowa finished with 18 turnovers that became 22 Nittany Lions points.
"I thought our decision-making at times was really poor," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "Our defense in the first half was unacceptable."
Penn State led 39-34 at intermission and won despite getting no points from its bench players.
"I definitely rode the starters. I just figured, 'We're on the road, we've got to play our best five,' and that's what we did," Chambers said.
Iowa next plays at Indiana at 7 p.m. Monday.
Iowa’s Tyler Cook had 23 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists in a 77-73 loss to Penn State. Chad Leistikow / The Register