Another slow start haunts Iowa men's basketball in 87-73 loss to No. 1 ranked Purdue

Kennington Lloyd Smith III
Des Moines Register

West Lafayette, Ind. − Coming off an emotional win over rival Illinois on Saturday, Iowa men's basketball team knew the challenge ahead on Thursday night was a difficult one. The Hawkeyes traveled to No. 1-ranked Purdue, which was seeking a bounce-back win after a loss to rival Indiana.

The Hawkeyes struck first on the scoreboard but things changed quickly in what was a near wire-to-wire victory for the Boilermakers, who played like a motivated team. The home team led for all but 1:18 of game clock and behind an early, fierce run defeated Iowa 87-73.

With Thursday night's loss, Iowa dropped to 15-9 overall, 7-6 in the Big Ten and saw its three-game win streak snapped. Kris Murray's 24 points and Filip Rebraca's 17 points led the team.

Iowa forward Kris Murray (24) makes a pass in front of Purdue center Zach Edey (15) during the first half of Thursday's game in West Lafayette, Ind.

Iowa made it interesting in the closing minutes, getting as close as six points with four minutes to play. But a disastrous first half proved to be too deep of a hole, which has become a familiar story for Hawkeye fans.

"As a team we're not happy with how we performed in the first half," Rebraca said. "If we want to beat the No. 1 team in the country in their house, in one of the loudest places in college basketball, then we can't do that."

Fran McCaffery, players give diagnosis on what went wrong early

A Tony Perkins steal-turned-Murray layup to start the game was pretty much Iowa's only bright spot during the first half. Feeding off an electric Mackey Arena crowd, Purdue (23-2, 12-2 Big Ten) countered with a blistering 17-2 run to lead by 13 points with 14:39 to play in the first half. Purdue led 38-21 at halftime.

Was Iowa too tight to start the game? Murray didn't believe so, instead pointing to lapses on one side of the court affecting their overall play.

"We got off to a tough start on the defensive end," Murray said. "That kind of went into our offense, we kind of rushed decisions and our shot selection (wasn't good) because they got out on a run."

The Hawkeyes placed an emphasis on stopping star center Zach Edey, double-teaming him on nearly every touch. While he was limited offensively (four first-half points), Iowa sacrificed open shots on the perimeter and it proved costly.

Long-range opportunities were the catalyst behind the Boilermakers' early run. Twelve of Purdue's first 21 points came from the 3-point line, most of which were uncontested. Iowa's game plan to take Edey out of the game was sound, but it wasn't matched with sound defensive rotations.

Iowa guard Tony Perkins (11) shoots over Purdue center Zach Edey during the first half of Thursday's game in West Lafayette, Ind.

"Our anticipation and rotations on defense were not good enough," coach Fran McCaffery said. "And it's hard because they have a lot of (shooters) and they're a team that's unselfish. You have a lot of ground to cover when you're double-teaming because now you have three (players) guarding four."

And offensively it was a poor shooting half for Iowa, which shot 29% from the field and 10% from 3-point range (1-of-10). Other than Murray and Rebraca, who combined for 12 points on 6-of-13 shooting, no other player made more than one basket in the first half. The Hawkeyes were unable to play at their pace for the majority of the first half and Edey's presence in the paint was a consistent factor to the tune of three blocks and several affected shots.

Once the Hawkeyes stopped driving, Purdue sat on their jump shots and didn't allow for easy points. And it resulted one of Iowa's lowest scoring halves of the season.

"I don't think we moved well enough in the first half in our motion (offense)," McCaffery said. "(Purdue) is a physical, defensive team but I don't think we were executing the way we needed to in this environment and ended up settling for jump shots. And this is a hard team to drive on but you still have to penetrate space and create opportunities."

Rebound margin was a stat to watch, and Purdue dominated it.

Iowa lost the rebounding battle in all three matchups against Purdue last season and circled that statistic as a key in pulling off an upset on Thursday. However, Purdue dominated that category yet again with a decisive 43-23 advantage. The difference in second-chance points doesn't stand out on paper (18-12 advantage for Purdue) but the timeliness of Purdue's second chances were notable. The Boilermakers' 13 offensive rebounds were on par with their nation-leading 12.4 mark.

Conversely for Iowa, a struggling offense rarely got a second look off of its misses (eight offensive rebounds).

"We weren't getting bad shots but we weren't getting any second (shots)," McCaffery said. "Which is hard to do against them, but we missed 38 shots and got eight of them back. When your offensive is struggling, you have to get a few of them back. They missed 27 shots but got 13 back. You have to fly around a little bit more, especially when you're missing nine (first-half) 3-pointers. The ball is bouncing, you have to get a couple back."

A strong showing shows flashes of potential, says Rebraca

Despite a slow start, Iowa's offense was much improved in the second half (57% shooting), sparked by a change in strategy: attacking the paint more aggressively. Ten of the Hawkeyes' first 14 points in the second half were scored in the paint or on free throws after driving and getting fouled. Iowa outscored Purdue 52-49 in the second half.

"Just not settling for jump shots," Murray said. "Making Edey play us a little more, putting the guards into more ball screens and getting downhill was a big part of our strategy. Then we were able to get better looks at the 3-point line with guys crashing and helping on the driver."

Iowa also played more aggressively in its press defense and it led to better chances in transition. The Hawkeyes forced 12 second-half turnovers (compared to five in the first half) and it allowed for a late comeback effort. From the 9:24 mark until 5:39, the Hawkeyes held Purdue without a field goal while shooting 4-of-6 from the field. Patrick McCaffery's layup brought the deficit to eight points, and a Rebraca jumper took it down to 70-64 with five minutes to play.

But Purdue leaned on its best player, Edey, and he responded with back-to-back finishes at the rim to extend the lead back to 10 points. One of those baskets was a dunk that brought Mackey to its loudest point of the night at the 4-minute mark. And the Boilermakers never looked back.

Iowa forward Filip Rebraca (0) shoots over Purdue center Zach Edey (15) during the first half of Thursday's game in West Lafayette, Ind.

Cutting the second-half deficit from 21 to six was a positive to take from the game, the Hawkeyes said afterward. But the poor first half was a disappointment and the catalyst for Thursday night's defeat. It's been a particular issue on the road (see Nebraska and Penn State); Iowa is now 2-5 away from home.

Iowa's next chance to improve its play away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena comes on Sunday when the Hawkeyes travel to Minnesota (7-15, 1-11).

"I'm proud that we battled back, it shows our potential," Rebraca said. "We're proud of the (second half) but also disappointed in our first half and understand we have to do better."