No. 6 Hawkeyes too 'casual' in loss at Penn State

Chad Leistikow
Penn State Nittany Lions fans storm the court following the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at the Bryce Jordan Center.  The Nittany Lions won 79-75.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Iowa had avoided a big stumble all basketball season — until Wednesday.

The sixth-ranked Hawkeyes said they were too casual and too content at the Bryce Jordan Center, where a physical and hungry Penn State team blind-sided them with a 79-75 stunner in front of a lighter-than-announced crowd of 6,590.

This one was a gut-punch, considering Iowa walloped Penn State 73-49 two weeks ago in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes are no longer alone in first place in the Big Ten Conference.

"I think a lot of guys, myself in particular, (were) just satisfied with where we were at," Iowa senior Anthony Clemmons said. "We were at the top alone and just happy. We’re just playing like that, instead of playing as the aggressor and the team that’s at the bottom.”

Penn State,which entered No. 113 in the NCAA RPI, tied a season-high with 10 3-pointers Wednesday and pulled off its second consecutive home upset. The Nittany Lions (13-13, 4-9 Big Ten) did Iowa a favor 11 days earlier by beating Indiana, but now they’ve done the Hoosiers and Maryland one, too.

Iowa (20-6, 11-3) is now tied with those teams in the loss column (and tied outright with Indiana) with four tough games to go in its quest for a first regular-season conference crown since 1978-79.

Entering Wednesday, the Hawkeyes’ only losses had been by single digits to ranked opponents. But once the hunters on the way to the top of the league with road upsets over Michigan State and Purdue, they're adjusting to life as the hunted.

Iowa narrowly escaped last-place Minnesota 75-71 at home on Sunday.

“It’s the Big Ten, every team is great. You can’t just show up to play," said Peter Jok, who led Iowa with 28 points. "You’ve got to bring your A-game every game. They were ready for us tonight, made 3s and had a great game. Credit to them.”

Penn State brought the fight to Iowa, and part of that strategy was fouling. The Nittany Lions were whistled for 26 fouls, but even though Iowa held an edge in free throws (25 to 17), there was no flow for the Big Ten's No. 2 offense.

“It took away our transition game — stopped us from pushing the ball as much," said Jarrod Uthoff, the only other Hawkeye in double figures with 19 points.

Iowa shot 41 percent for the game and committed 13 turnovers, its highest total since Dec. 10 at Iowa State. And the Penn State fans who did show up stormed the court to celebrate.

Iowa Hawkeyes forward Jarrod Uthoff (20) moves to the basket as Penn State Nittany Lions forward Payton Banks (0) defends during the first half at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Early on, it looked like Iowa would coast. But Shep Garner, who was 0-for-16 on 3-pointers in his last three games, buried his first four attempts from long range to help rally the Nittany Lions. A team that entered with the 340th-ranked 3-point shooting percentage out of 351 in Division I converted 7-of-14 triples in the first half against Iowa's slow-to-rotate defense.

“We (were) playing casual," Jok said. "They had a lot of open looks, and they made them.”

After Isaiah Washington's 3-pointer with 5:07 left in the first half pushed Penn State to a 26-25 lead, it never trailed again.

“It came easy early. We were up 8-0," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "Then I don’t think we moved the ball as well as we should have or could have.”

After a 0-for-5 start, Penn State hit 15 of its final 22 attempts in the first half to take a 38-31 halftime lead.

“It helps when you see the first few go in," said Penn State senior reserve Donovan Jack, who hit eight of his nine shots on his way to a career-high 19 points. "The basket gets bigger. We kept shooting. We got open looks. Uncontested shots are the best shots.”

Iowa failed to make a basket in the final 7½ minutes of the first half. It was simply a night where the Hawkeyes' shots weren't falling. They had four 3-pointers in the first 38:38 of the game, and four in the final 1:22 when it was essentially too late.

Jok's back-to-back desperation 3s cut it to 78-75 with 7 seconds left, but Brandon Taylor (18 points, nine rebounds) sealed it with a free throw.

“It’s hard to win on the road in this league," McCaffery said. "We tried to keep coming. We hung in there. We didn’t play well enough to win.”