Iowa basketball analysis: Hawkeyes must answer for soft 3-point defense and repeated slow starts

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Purdue enjoyed a nice morning shootaround Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, lining up to nail uncontested jump shots the way visiting basketball teams have done for decades.

The difference was, this was actually during a game and the Iowa Hawkeyes were physically in the building trying to stop the Boilermakers.

Not that the 14,822 fans who showed up for the 11 a.m. tipoff would have noticed.

Purdue senior Vincent Edwards fires a three-point field goal over the reach of Iowa sophomore Isaiah Moss at Carver Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday, January 20, 2018.

No. 3 Purdue scored 16 points in a row early to bury the hapless Hawkeyes en route to an 87-64 win that wasn’t nearly as competitive as even that score might suggest. The Boilermakers led 51-20 at halftime, a poor showing even by Iowa’s standards this season. They made 11 of 16 3-pointers in the half against an Iowa perimeter defense so passive that Purdue didn’t even need to look inside before choosing which open player would take the shot.

“We weren’t aggressive enough on defense to get out to their shooters. They had too many open looks and rhythm looks. A guy would hit one, come down, kind of get the same kind of look,” Iowa freshman center Luka Garza said. “That’s something we’ve got to recognize and pick up in the game, kind of to stop that.”

Iowa (10-11, 1-7 Big Ten Conference) has had an entire season to recognize this weakness. It has yet to find a solution. Big Ten opponents are making 44.9 percent of their 3-pointers. In his college career, Steph Curry made 3s at only a 41.2 percent rate. He would have loved to face these Hawkeyes.

Purdue was the first ranked opponent Iowa has faced this season. It was the first capacity home crowd this winter. The late Chris Street was honored during an emotional halftime ceremony that brought that crowd to its feet.

All of this should have conspired to summon a fiery performance from the home team.

It did not.

“We talk about, when you’re in these type of environments, trying to pass the ball more than dribble,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “When it gets loud and you can’t hear yourself think and you can’t see the play call, you don’t know what’s going on, just moving the basketball and then playing off your instincts.”

The Boilermakers’ instincts did not fail them. They set a program record with 20 3-pointers, also the most any team has ever generated in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

And it started, as it usually does against Iowa, right after the first media timeout. This has been a confounding pattern this season for the Hawkeyes, who often play a strong opening 4 minutes only to watch things unravel in the immediate aftermath.

At Illinois on Jan. 11, a six-point deficit turned into 20 for Iowa after that first timeout. At Rutgers on Wednesday, a two-point hole turned into 17.

And then Purdue showed Iowa how much separation a good team can make. The Boilermakers made 11 of 12 3-pointers in one stretch and enjoyed a double-digit lead for the final 33:36 of the game.

Iowa’s response was to let them keep shooting. The Hawkeyes were whistled for only seven fouls all day, apparently not wanting to get close enough to the Boilermakers to touch them.

Purdue forward Vincent Edwards, left, drives past Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

“We got outplayed by a really good team. They’ve been doing it to everybody,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery noted.

“They’re a tough cover because you’ve got to defend the post. They have multiple 3-point shooters, and every one of their 3-point shooters can go off the dribble. They have you all spread out.”

McCaffery said he felt his players gave a good effort Saturday. Those players also preferred to give the Boilermakers credit for playing a great game and to look toward the future, which starts with a Tuesday home game against Wisconsin.

But there’s no excuse for repeatedly falling behind by double-digit margins in the first half, and that’s what the Hawkeyes need to answer for.

Only point guard Jordan Bohannon seemed to want to address his team’s deficiencies.

“We still want to be demanding. We don’t want to stay optimistic and live in a positive world the entire game because we know there’s going to be adversity that hits us,” Bohannon said.

“We can be more demanding of each other and hold ourselves more accountable, whether that’s getting more stops on the defensive end or whatnot.”

Iowa sophomore Jordan Bohannon lays up a shot against Purdue at Carver Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday, January 20, 2018.

After two losses this week by a combined 39 points, it’s certainly time for the Hawkeyes to do that.