Leistikow: Iowa basketball's loss to Richmond marks a forgettable end to a memorable season

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

BUFFALO, N.Y. — This one’s going to sting for quite a while.

Four days after celebrating a Big Ten Conference championship in Indianapolis, the Iowa Hawkeyes’ season is over.

Fifth-seeded Iowa, a trendy Final Four pick as it entered the NCAA Tournament on a roaring hot streak, suffered a cold-shooting Thursday afternoon and couldn’t get all-American Keegan Murray going against a pesky Richmond squad. The 12th-seeded Spiders, 10-point underdogs, made more plays down the stretch to send the Hawkeyes into the offseason in painful fashion.

Richmond 67, Iowa 63.

"Probably the worst game we've played all year, and I don't think it's close," fifth-year senior Connor McCaffery said. "So it's definitely not a good feeling in our stomachs right now."

The misery of the box score is almost too painful to examine.

Richmond's Nathan Cayo (4) reacts after dunking the ball in front of Iowa's Patrick McCaffery (22) in the second half Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Buffalo, New York. The fifth-seeded Hawkeyes were upset, continuing the program's Sweet 16 drought.

Icy field-goal shooting (36.4%), including 6-for-29 from 3-point range (20.7%) — this from a team that set a Big Ten Tournament record with 46 3-pointers over four days in Indianapolis.

"We got a lot of open looks we usually make," all-American forward Keegan Murray said.

Just two free-throw attempts in the second half.

"Typically, we expect to shoot more than two free throws in the second half," head coach Fran McCaffery said. "Especially the way we were driving the ball."

Points on just 29 of 69 trips down the floor, an average of 0.913 points per possession for the nation's second-best adjusted-efficiency offense.

"They just sat five guys back on defense, so we really didn't get to run," Connor McCaffery said. "They slowed the game way down, but at the end of the day, we just didn't play well."

And, most importantly, the 10th and final loss. A forgettable end to what had been a memorable season, similar to what happened 16 years ago Thursday — on St. Patrick's Day 2006 — when third-seeded Iowa lost in the NCAA-opening game against 14th-seeded Northwestern State just days after winning a Big Ten Tournament title.

Here's how Thursday's loss unfolded.

The Hawkeyes had, in a sense, survived their lowest-scoring first half since Jan. 19 at Rutgers. While there is ice underneath the floor here at the NHL home of the Buffalo Sabres, that cannot be to blame for Iowa’s frigid shooting (10-for-33, 30.3%) in the opening 20 minutes.

Yet Iowa found itself down by a thin 29-28 margin.

"We played one of our worst basketball halves of the season," sixth-year senior Jordan Bohannon would say, "and we were only down one. So I knew we had a little bit of fight left in us."

After Richmond pulled into a 34-28 lead early in the second half, the Hawkeyes heated up behind Patrick McCaffery. The 6-foot-9 sophomore stepped into two straight 3-pointers in a span in a span of 33 seconds, then scored again after a Tony Perkins three-point play to cap an 11-0 run in 95 seconds. That gave Iowa its biggest lead of 39-34.

But then the Hawkeyes went ice cold, going empty on seven straight possessions. The missed shots added up, and Richmond eventually pieced together a 20-7 run to take a 54-46 lead with 6:13 to go.

Bohannon struck from 3 with 5:15 left, ending the team's game-opening streak of 4-for-23 accuracy from 3-point range. After a Richmond bucket, Patrick McCaffery drained a 3 with 4:27 left to whittle the Spiders’ edge to 56-52. (Iowa wouldn't make another 3 the rest of the way on four attempts.)

Murray spun inside for two with 2:56 left to make it 56-54, a much-needed bucket for the sophomore who scored 21 points in what could have been his last game as a Hawkeye. He is projected to be an NBA lottery pick this summer.

After a Richmond two, Murray banked one in again and drew the foul to make it 58-57 with 2:02 left.

Iowa just needed to get some stops. But it couldn’t get them.

Richmond's Nathan Cayo (4) shoots the ball against Iowa's Keegan Murray (15) during Thursday's game in Buffalo, N.Y.

Nathan Cayo’s drive to the rim drew a foul, and he scored on a wild shot with 1:24 to go. Though he missed the free throw, Kris Murray’s 3 on the other end came up short. Replays showed he got hit on the arm, but no foul was called.

"It was upsetting for him. I feel bad for him," Fran McCaffery said. "He is a pretty good shooter. He is typically not going to shoot and miss by that much."

A bad break.

Cayo scored again with 34 seconds to go and converted a 3-point play to push Richmond into a 63-57 advantage.

Though reality was starting to set in, the Hawkeyes weren’t done. Patrick McCaffery (18 points) scored a two, then a poke-away steal led to a Keegan Murray bucket to make it 63-61.

Two Jacob Gilyard free throws, though, put Iowa into desperation mode, down four. A Bohannon 3 misfired but Iowa got the ball back and called timeout with 5.5 seconds left. An alley-oop dunk to Murray made it 65-63 with 5.2 seconds on the clock. Timeout again.

Iowa's Joe Toussaint (2) shoots the ball against Richmond's Tyler Burton on Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y.

Gilyard (24 points) was pure again on two free throws after a Tony Perkins' foul, and it was game over.

And just like that, the Sweet 16 drought continues. Twenty-three years and counting since Tom Davis’ 1999 team defeated Arkansas to reach the West Region semifinals and then lost to eventual national champion Connecticut. Since that time, Iowa has done well to produce nine NCAA Tournament teams, including six under McCaffery.

But chalk up early exits in 2001 (second round); 2005 (first round); 2006 (first round as a No. 3 seed); 2014 (First Four); 2015 (second round); 2016 (second round); 2019 (second round); 2021 (second round as a No. 2 seed) … and now 2022 in an unexpected first-round upset.

Iowa was a 10-point favorite here Thursday. This was a game it was supposed to win. This was a team with arguably the best player in the country. But in 40 forgettable minutes, the season was over.

Iowa's Tony Perkins (11) drives against Richmond's Tyler Burton (3) on Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y.

Despite the loss, this Iowa basketball season will still have been a success. Twenty-six wins are the second-most in school history. A Big Ten Tournament championship far exceeded the outside expectations for a team picked ninth in the conference. But a quick exit here was certainly an unsatisfying and abrupt conclusion.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.