Iowa's cold-shooting road woes continue in painful loss to Wisconsin

Chad Leistikow
Des Moines Register

MADISON, Wis. − Wisconsin got the rock fight it wanted Wednesday night, with the slushy weather outside the Kohl Center offering equally ugly conditions.

And Iowa obliged, throwing up brick after brick ... after brick.

The Hawkeyes continued their putrid 3-point shooting away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena and their defense crumbled down the stretch in a damaging 64-52 loss to Wisconsin.

Iowa finished 3-for-28 from deep, with Ahron Ulis' 3 with 55 seconds left barely getting the Hawkeyes over the 50-point hump.

When the shots aren’t falling it’s almost impossible to win on the road in the Big Ten Conference. That was painfully obvious four days earlier in Evanston, Illinois when the Hawkeyes went 3-for-24 from long range in an 80-60 loss to Northwestern. If it was possible, this one was uglier. Iowa missed 11 of its final 13 shots to turn a tight game into a double-digit defeat.

And now in 13 road and neutral-site games this season, Iowa is shooting just 27.8% from 3 (71-for-255). By comparison, it is hitting on 36.7% from 3-point range at home.

“Everyone’s just kind of pressing right now. Just seeing it not go in is hard sometimes," said Iowa sophomore Payton Sandfort. "Obviously, I’ve been through it. We’ve just got to stay confident. We’ll get it back. Just keep shooting it. We’re getting really good looks.”

Tony Perkins and the Hawkeyes couldn't connect from long range in Wednesday's game at the Kohl Center. Iowa went 3-for-28 from 3-point range.

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery could only scratch his head afterward. He tried to find the right mix of guys, but nobody in his core seven-man rotation could get hot.

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"It was a frustrating night from that standpoint," McCaffery said. "That’s two (games) in a row where nothing was dropping from 3.”

The night began with Iowa in a six-way tie for fourth place in the Big Ten standings and Wisconsin fighting for its NCAA tournament life. The Hawkeyes were motivated to bounce back from the loss at Northwestern in which McCaffery was ejected in the second half for arguing with officials. Meantime, the Badgers were desperate for a win after a 1-point home loss to Rutgers on Saturday.

If the first half was any indication, neither team came out ready to take the bull by the horns.

Iowa did grab a 10-4 lead before the first media timeout on the strength of some good early defense; Kris Murray’s steal on the press and feed to Ulis for an easy 2 appeared to be a good omen for the Hawkeyes. They did a lot of things right, but their 1-for-12 accuracy from 3 in the first half sabotaged their efforts. The looks were open, the shots just weren’t falling. Six Hawkeyes tried 3s in the first 20 minutes, and only Sandfort connected.

Yet Wisconsin couldn’t take full advantage despite shooting 52.2% from the field to Iowa’s 31.0% and outrebounding the Hawkeyes, 17-13. The Badgers, who entered averaging an NCAA-low 8.3 turnovers a game, committed eight first-half miscues. Again, Iowa’s defense was active and forced some uncharacteristic turnovers from the home team. Meanwhile, Iowa had just three first-half turnovers. The result: A 27-26 Wisconsin lead at the kind of pace that usually bodes well for the Badgers.

Iowa star forward Kris Murray played only 8:13 of the first half after picking up a second foul with 8:34 remaining; Wisconsin second-leading scorer Steven Crowl only played 4:32 in the first half due to two fouls of his own. The question would become: Which player could emerge in the second half and lead his team to victory?

Crowl delivered two thunderous dunks early in the second half, while Murray (who entered averaging 20.7 points a game) finally got his first points with a right-corner 3 to give Iowa a 35-34 lead. Murray never got going and would finish with a season-low 5 points on 2-for-10 shooting. Connor Essegian led Wisconsin with 17 points.

Wisconsin began to pull away in the low-scoring battle, with left-corner 3s in succession from Essegian, Max Klesmit and Chucky Hepburn to turn a 41-40 Iowa lead into a 49-43 Badgers advantage. A crowd tamped down by the weather was really into this one for the first time. Wisconsin outscored Iowa, 24-11, over the final 10:26 and finished the game shooting 52.1% (25-for-48) to Iowa's 32.3% (20-for-62).

"Tonight, we just couldn’t hit shots," said Iowa guard Tony Perkins. "I feel like we allowed that to affect us defensively.”

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That mid-second half run was the boost Wisconsin needed to take this one to the finish line and improve to 16-11 overall, 8-9 in Big Ten play. Iowa dropped to 17-11 overall, 9-8 in league play and will next host Michigan State (17-10, 9-7), one of those teams in the mid-pack logjam. Iowa has won seven straight Big Ten games at home and will certainly need that one at 11 a.m. Saturday at sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Filip Rebraca's 13 points and seven rebounds led Iowa. Perkins also had 13, but it came on 4-for-14 shooting. Sandfort added 10 points, and Ulis had 9. Connor McCaffery (2 points, three turnovers) and Patrick McCaffery (0 points, 18 minutes) had off nights.

“We just have to pick each other up. We can’t put our heads down," Murray said. "We’re excited to get back home and get our shot back.”