Leistikow: Bad Iowa defense? It's a broken record ... for Nebraska's offense

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

LINCOLN, Neb. — As the final minutes of this basketball game wound down, the result well in hand, Nebraska media members were scrambling to look up offensive records for the home team.

It had become that kind of Saturday night for visiting Iowa.

And it’s been that kind of season for the Hawkeye defense, which remains indefensible.

Nebraska center Jordy Tshminga (32) looks at Iowa forward Cordell Pemsl (35) as official D.J. Carstensen looks to break them up in first-half action at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Lackluster defense has become the recurring theme of what’s been — and continues to be — a disappointing Iowa season.

The Hawkeyes were run out of another Big Ten Conference arena on Saturday, this time in a 98-84 loss to Nebraska before a sellout crowd of 15,952 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

The biggest issue on defense?

"It certainly wasn't one," said Fran McCaffery, whose team fell to 11-12 overall and 2-8 in Big Ten play. “It was multiple."

Said Iowa's Cordell Pemsl: "We were just allowing them to do what they wanted to do. They had five guys over their (scoring) averages."

There were some things to like about Iowa’s play Saturday.

Jordan Bohannon (24 points, seven assists), Tyler Cook (24 points, 10 rebounds) and their teammates showed some fight. After it looked like the Cornhuskers were pulling away, ahead 16 early in the second half, a furious charge got the Hawkeyes within two, at 56-54.

"We played really well in spurts tonight," Cook said.

Spurts of emotion, though, aren’t enough for this team.

"A couple points in the game, we kind of took our foot off the gas," Cook said.

Every time it seemed like Iowa needed a key second-half stop, James Palmer Jr. (28 points) or Isaac Copeland (23) canned a 3-pointer; or Evan Taylor had an easy layup; or even maligned big man Jordy Tshimanga (season-high 11 points) was scoring in the lane.

A free-throw disparity didn’t do Iowa any favors, either.

Nebraska attempted 36 foul shots to Iowa’s 14.

That’s life on the road in the Big Ten.

No doubt, the Big Ten road hasn't treated Iowa well. The Jan. 11 overtime win at last-place Illinois still counts. Otherwise, Iowa’s been beaten by margins of 13, 18, 16 and now 14 in conference road games.

The Hawkeyes aren't just getting beat, they're getting blitzed.

“One thing about Iowa, they can lead you right down the path of a shootout. They play quick," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. "I just didn’t know if we could keep up that way.”

The Huskers could.

There was hope that this Hawkeye team had re-discovered its mojo four nights ago, a grit-filled 85-67 victory against Wisconsin in which players hustled for 40 minutes and won wire-to-wire.

It remains Iowa’s best performance of the season.

And, to this point, an anomaly.

"That's the hardest part," Pemsl said. "We don't have that answer. We don't understand how we can play like we just did (vs. Wisconsin) and come out like we did tonight. I mean, offensively we were right there. If you score 84 points ... there's a pretty good chance you're going to win.

"Obviously it shows how much we were lacking on the defensive end."

Nebraska is no offensive juggernaut. The Cornhuskers came into the game ranked 12th in the Big Ten in scoring. They had point totals of 37, 22, 33 and 27 in their last four halves of basketball.

In Saturday’s first half, they scored 48. More than any other half of Big Ten ball this season.

They topped that with 50 in the second half.

For the game, they shot 58 percent from 2-point range, 58 percent from 3-point range, 75 percent from the foul line.

All told, the 98 points overall are the most Nebraska has scored against a Big Ten opponent since ... drum roll ... joining the Big Ten in 2011.

It was actually Nebraska's highest point total in any conference game since 2002.

In Iowa's previous road game, at Rutgers, the lowly Scarlet Knights hit the 80-point mark for the first time in 35 Big Ten games. 

Like I said: Recurring theme.

More like a broken record.

Give Nebraska credit. The Huskers are playing good ball this year, perhaps good enough to reach the NCAA Tournament. They're 16-8 overall, 7-4 in the Big Ten — including a perfect 5-0 in conference play at home.

As for Iowa?

Scrounging for positives is about all that's left to do with this Hawkeye team, which returns home Tuesday for a winnable game against reeling Minnesota.

McCaffery took awhile to emerge from the postgame locker room.

"I told them a lot of things," McCaffery said calmly. "What you try to do is challenge guys individually. You try to break down things that were not good. Then you try to identify some things that were good. We shot 50 percent from the field; 43 from 3. Twenty assists to nine turnovers against a team that was up in us. We were on the road. Then you come back. So there's a lot of good.

"But you give up 98. That's not good math."

And, unfortunately for Iowa, an all-too-familiar equation.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.