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Leistikow: 'The sky's not falling' ... On a bad night, Iowa nearly beat Maryland anyway

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The more this Iowa basketball season has progressed, the more one characteristic has surfaced in describing this team.

Maturity.

Maybe 30 minutes after what was likely the Hawkeyes’ most heartbreaking loss of the 2018-19 season, perspective was (correctly) flowing from the team’s leaders.

“We can’t dwell on this,” point guard Jordan Bohannon said of No. 19 Iowa’s 66-65 loss to No. 24 Maryland at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “We still have a great record.”

The cardiac Hawkeyes had rallied from a late 11-point deficit to take a one-point lead and had the ball with 1 minute, 32 seconds to go.

Iowa players Maishe Dailey (1), Tyler Cook (25) and Nicholas Baer (51) walk off the court after Tuesday's 66-65 home loss to Maryland.

But they missed all five shots they tried in the last 69 seconds, including Bohannon’s 3-pointer and Isaiah Moss’ follow-up in the final moments, to end their four-game win streak.

It was an uncharacteristic night of bad offense from a team that entered with the nation's seventh most-efficient offense.

“A one-point loss sometimes hurts more than a 20-point loss, for sure,” said Nicholas Baer, the team’s lone senior who was maybe the only Hawkeye who showed his “A” game Tuesday night. “But at the same time, we fought really hard. When you look at 18 offensive rebounds, I thought we really competed.”

For a team that had won nine of its previous 11 Big Ten Conference games, a loss to a nationally ranked Maryland team shouldn’t be setting off alarm bells.

And it wasn’t.

“It’s important to keep perspective,” Baer said. “The sky’s not falling, by any means.”

For now, Hawkeye fans, take this for what it was.

An off night against a Maryland team that caught fire from 3-point range.

Iowa shot 32.8 percent, a season low in conference play.

The Terrapins, meanwhile, hit 12 of their final 20 tries from deep.

This would’ve been a blowout loss last year.

Take comfort in the fact that Iowa got next to nothing from Luka Garza (who called his performance “terrible” after scoring five points in 21 minutes), Joe Wieskamp (two points in 20 minutes) and Tyler Cook (four shot attempts and no free throws in 37 minutes) … and still found a way to get to the final seconds with (not one but) two shots to win.

“Offensively, it was a challenge for us all night,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said in an obvious understatement.

Take comfort that Iowa played some of its best man-to-man defense of the year. Yeah, Maryland hit some open 3s. But the Terrapins saw their share of wild heaves drop through the bucket in the first half. Tip your cap to them.

Meanwhile, Iowa scuffled with exception of a brief second-half stretch that turned Iowa’s 57-46 deficit with 6 minutes left into a 61-60 lead on Baer’s final 3-pointer with 2:37 to go.

Of course, the final sequences could have gone better.

Iowa gave up a second-chance tip-in to Bruno Fernando with 7.8 seconds left.

A defensive rebound there, and the Hawkeyes are in good shape to walk off with their fifth straight win. But Fernando is a likely first-round NBA Draft pick for a reason. He’s good.

About that final sequence ...

McCaffery said he thought Bohannon “maybe could have kicked it” instead of taking a forced 3 as the clock wound down. As I watched the replay, the only player that might have been open was Cook — and he was 15 feet from the bucket, not exactly his range.

It was actually impressive that Iowa dribbled the length of the court and, in 7.8 seconds, got two viable shots at a third straight buzzer-beating win.

My only quibble: Instead of Iowa using its final timeout immediately after Fernando’s bucket, maybe hustle the ball to mid-court before calling for time. Then you've got a good 5 seconds to draw up another game-winner (when you only needed 3 against Northwestern and Rutgers).

But that’s a minor thing.

The loss is certainly a bummer for Hawkeye players. They probably needed to win out for a realistic shot at the program’s first regular-season Big Ten title in 40 years.

Nothing else was significantly damaged here Tuesday night.

The Hawkeyes woke up Wednesday morning with a 20-6 overall record, 9-6 in the Big Ten — all six losses of the Quadrant 1 variety, as far as the NCAA NET rankings are determined.

No bad losses 26 games in? Not many teams can say that.

Iowa’s NCAA Tournament chances won’t take a hit with this loss. Maryland (20-7, 11-5) is a good team that’ll be in the tournament, too. Whether the Hawkeyes get a double-bye at the Big Ten Tournament isn’t a major deal at this point; now they're probably vying for a No. 5 or 6 seed with Wisconsin.

What is a big deal … is exactly what Baer and Bohannon referenced in postgame interviews.

The Hawkeyes' subpar performance was an anomaly, not a red flag.

“That’s what happens sometimes in the Big Ten,” Bohannon said.

Look for them to come out firing in Friday’s 8:15 p.m. home date with an Indiana team that has lost 11 of its last 12 games.

Asked afterward if he had any overall concerns about his team going forward, McCaffery had a one-word response.

“No.”

Bottom line: The Hawkeyes are still feeling good about themselves. Bohannon vowed to shut out any outside negativity. They're staying the course.

They aren’t falling into the trap of making a one-point home loss a bigger deal than it is; nor should fans.

“I’m still very confident. We’re still 20-6,” Baer said. “… I’m just looking forward to these next couple weeks, just playing our best basketball. That’s what is most important.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.