No. 5 Iowa pays for its many mistakes in overtime loss at Minnesota

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Iowa was drowsy on offense to begin Friday’s basketball game and lousy on defense at the end.

There was a stretch of inspired play by the No. 5 Hawkeyes in between, but that hardly matters when a team blows a seven-point lead in the final 44 seconds of regulation and spends overtime watching an opposing shooter make history.

This is a veteran Iowa team with designs on a championship. Letting a Big Ten Conference road victory slip away can’t be part of that design.

Minnesota staggered the Hawkeyes with a 102-95 overtime win at Williams Arena, scoring 26 points in the game’s final 5 minutes and 44 seconds. The Gophers’ Brandon Johnson finished with 26 points and it only seemed as if he got them all in that stretch.

Johnson is a senior who transferred in from Western Michigan, where he was discouraged from shooting 3-pointers and made only 31.8% of them. He was 2-for-10 from the arc as a Gopher.

So there was little reason for Iowa to account for him on the scouting report. But there was a great urgency to account for Johnson on Friday after he started lighting up the rim.

This was an all-too-familiar sight for Iowa in overtime Friday: Minnesota forward Brandon Johnson rising up to sink a 3-pointer. Johnson hit 8 of 9 from that range in the Gophers' 102-95 win.

No Hawkeye did. Johnson, a 6-foot-8 forward who could easily shoot over Iowa’s perimeter defenders, sank 8 of 9 to set a single-game Gophers record for accuracy from the 3-point line. He made all four of his attempts in overtime, his body language letting everyone know each time downcourt exactly what he was going to do.

And he did it anyway.

“Johnson was open. There’s no excuse for that,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.

“I think we’ve got to do a better job of adjusting to a guy who gets hot.”

That was the viewpoint of Iowa guard CJ Fredrick as well. He conceded that Johnson’s hot hand was a surprise, but felt like the Hawkeyes gave the game away by not doing anything to extinguish it.

Luka Garza, who had 32 points to lead the Hawkeyes (7-2, 1-1 Big Ten), pointed out that there will be many close games ahead, and protecting a lead will be an important lesson to learn.

“In the overtime, we just let one guy shoot the same shot over and over again,” Garza said. “And we can’t do that.”

Iowa point guard Joe Toussaint (left) walks over to help CJ Fredrick up after he was fouled on a 3-point attempt Friday. Fredrick finished with a season-high 23 points. Toussaint got plenty of action late in the game, a rarity for the sophomore, to come up with seven points and three assists. But Minnesota rallied for an overtime win.

Fran McCaffery puts trust in Joe Toussaint and needs to do so again

Backup point guard Joe Toussaint was getting a valuable opportunity to be part of Iowa’s closing lineup late. The sophomore is usually on the bench in those moments while senior Jordan Bohannon or junior Connor McCaffery has the reins.

Bohannon had four fouls Friday and was only 1-for-7 from the 3-point arc. Fran McCaffery turned to Toussaint, who will need to learn to navigate these moments if he’s the Hawkeyes’ starter the next two years.

It was promising for Toussaint initially. He entered the game with the Hawkeyes ahead 73-69 and 3:44 remaining. He immediately drove and dished to Garza for a basket.

On the next possession, he shuffled the basketball to an open Fredrick in the corner, resulting in a foul and three free throws. Fredrick made only one, however, and those two misses may have been some foreshadowing.

Toussaint got fouled on a transition drive and sank both free throws to give Iowa that 80-73 lead with 44 seconds left, the one that should have been enough.  He was good on another pair of free throws to push the Hawkeyes ahead 83-78 with 27 seconds to go.

So far, so good. Toussaint made 83.1% of his free throws as a freshman. At that point, he was at 72.2% this year.

Minnesota fouled him again with 14 seconds left. Toussaint saw both attempts rim out. Gophers guard Marcus Carr drilled a step-back 3-pointer to force the overtime.

Iowa missed 11 of its 38 free throws Friday. Garza and Fredrick also missed three apiece. So it’s unfair to say Toussaint’s were the ones that caused the loss. But he’s a competitor, and it’s easy to see him feeling that way.

Look for McCaffery to put Toussaint in that position again, sooner rather than later. He knows he can’t show any lack of faith in his point guard of the future.

Iowa center Luka Garza reacts after a second-half basket. He had 27 of his 32 points after intermission, but it wasn't enough to drop Minnesota.

Garza blames self for first-half offense, but defense was Iowa's undoing

Iowa entered the game with the most efficient offense in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy’s analytics. But things were ugly early. The Hawkeyes had a stretch of nine consecutive missed field-goal attempts and the Gophers (8-1, 1-1) built a lead as large as 12 points in the first half.

Garza was 2-for-11 at halftime with five points. The nation’s leading scorer doesn’t have many games like that, but he could certainly flash back to one from 10 months ago, when he was 3-for-16 against Penn State in the opening 20 minutes, only to go 8 of 12 after that as Iowa rallied for a home win.

Garza made 9 of his final 16 shots against the Gophers. Even when he did miss, he hustled for 11 offensive rebounds.

Fredrick made his first four 3-pointers en route to a career-high 23 points. Joe Wieskamp had 10 of his 14 points in the first half, including the final seven to keep the Hawkeyes within striking range.

More:CJ Fredrick's emergence as supreme shooter providing big lift to No. 19 Hawkeyes

Behind that trio, the Hawkeyes went on a 35-15 run over a span of 10:27 to claim a 58-50 lead. The Gophers staged an impressive response then, led by Carr (30 points) and Johnson. For Iowa, it was a missed opportunity to put the game away, one that eventually stung in the final seconds.

Garza, as usual, put the blame on his shoulders.

“In the first half, I was just missing layups,” he said.

“I think we would have been in a way better position if I was finishing my moves and scoring. We would have been up instead of down (at halftime). That’s on me. I’ve got to be better in the future.”

That’s admirable. But this game got away from Iowa because, as a team, the defense was subpar.

“It’s something I think we’ve got to try to figure out,” McCaffery said of giving up 102 points one game after limiting Purdue to 55 in a home win. “We’ve got to be better than that.”

Shocking loss for Hawkeyes, but only 3 Big Ten teams have perfect records

Now, for some perspective about this league Iowa is in. This game was the last of four Big Ten contests that were played on Christmas Day. When it was over, only three of 14 teams had an undefeated conference record — Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin. This is after only two of 20 games have been played for most teams.

No one is emerging from this gauntlet unscathed. The Hawkeyes found that out in stunning fashion, to be sure, but it’s always been evident. The most successful teams will be the ones who don’t let a bitter loss linger.

“We were terrible defensively the entire game and we had it won,” Garza said. “If we play a little better defensively, I don’t think the game is even close. But credit to them, they hit their shots. And we have to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Iowa next hosts Northwestern at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.