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Leistikow: Hawkeyes show their Purdue problem in perplexing loss

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Whatever way the Big Ten Tournament bracket shakes out, Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes ought to hope like heck that Purdue is far, far away from them.

Matt Painter and the Boilermakers have Iowa’s number, which is becoming more fact than opinion after the latest result.

No. 18 Iowa was outplayed, outhustled by the Big Ten’s 10th-place team Tuesday night, a humbling 77-68 senior-night loss before 13,216 fans.

The final margin is misleading. Iowa was out of this one from the opening minutes, when it fell behind 11-4 and Fran McCaffery started angrily punching clipboards. Purdue’s margin swelled to 21 points in the first half, a three-touchdown lead in what felt like a football game at times.

More:Takeaways from Iowa's humbling home loss to Purdue

In 30 games this season, Iowa’s delivered just three duds. One was vs. DePaul. The other two were against Purdue.

“Their game plan,” sophomore Joe Wieskamp said, “is clearly working against us.”

Painter is now 17-8 against Iowa, including five wins in the last six matchups over four seasons.

All five wins have been jarringly dominant. In every case, the Iowa team in question has not looked like its usual self.

“It wasn’t who we are," Wieskamp noted.

The 104-68 rout Feb. 5 was fresh in Iowa players’ minds. They wanted to atone for that loss, in which Purdue raced to a 17-2 advantage, hit 19 3-pointers, shot 63% and led by as many as 39 points.

“It was the same story,” Iowa junior Luka Garza said. “The first game was the same thing.”

But go back further, and the Boilermakers’ ownership of Iowa is repetitive.

Last season, it led by as many as 26 points in an 86-70 rout in West Lafayette in the teams’ only meeting.

In 2018, Purdue came into a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye and blew the doors off the Hawkeyes, 87-64 — canning 20 of 33 3-pointers and leading by as many as 37.

One season earlier, Iowa salvaged a split against Purdue and played maybe its best game of the season to win by five. It lost the other one by 22 points.

Just a bad matchup again?

Garza took exception to that assertion.

“I don’t think that’s fair. I think we’re a better team. They’ve outhustled us twice,” Garza said. “They’ve outfought us twice. We just need to match their intensity, but I think we’re a better team.”

Look closer, though, and Purdue does a great job frustrating everything Iowa wants to accomplish.

McCaffery’s teams want to get out and run. Purdue does its best not to let them, playing a physical, clog-it-up style. Michigan State is another team that takes a similar approach; Iowa had zero fast-break points in last week’s 78-70 loss in East Lansing.

“Something they do really well against us is jam up our break and quick in-bounds,” said Iowa senior Ryan Kriener, who had one of his passes intercepted for an easy two points in the first half — a 5-0 Purdue run in a matter of 12 seconds. “… They’re a very disruptive team. They shoot gaps, blow up dribble hand-offs, play ball screens extremely aggressively.”

Painter confessed, yes, that is part of the secret to Purdue’s success against Iowa.

But another part, he said, was luck. Although it was calculated luck. The Boilermakers were adamant about trying to slow Garza (who worked hard for his 26 points and 12 rebounds), Wieskamp (who was held to 10 points, his fifth straight game below his scoring average) and CJ Fredrick (eight points on 2-of-7 shooting).

They audaciously left Connor McCaffery, Joe Toussaint and Bakari Evelyn wide open from 3-point range. That trio combined to only hit 2 of 13 attempts from deep, failing to make Purdue's strategy backfire.

“If they make some open shots, maybe we have to change some things,” Painter said. “But the big thing was not letting them have so many opportunities in transition.

“You’ve got to score the ball to do that.”

And that’s where those quick starts come in real handy.

Combine that with Iowa’s general lack of first-half hustle — Purdue grabbed nine of the game’s first 10 available rebounds and finished the game with a 47-33 rebounding edge — and there you have another Boiler blowout.

And the harsh reality is this was hardly a vintage Purdue team.

“I’m already ready to get back out there,” Garza said. “I obviously hate losing. But I really hate getting outhustled more than anything.”

So, about next week …

The Hawkeyes (20-10 overall, 11-8 Big Ten) are still in sixth place in the Big Ten. They’ll be an underdog in Sunday’s season finale at Illinois. If they lose that, there’s a good chance they stay as the No. 6 seed. If they win, they can get as high as the No. 4. But if they’re the No. 6 …

… And Purdue loses Saturday (at home) to Rutgers, the possibility is high that the Boilermakers (16-14, 9-10) fall to the No. 11 …

… And that could mean Round 3 of Iowa vs. Purdue next Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.