Hawkeyes hang on to beat the Huskers in Big Ten home opener

Matthew Bain

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Hawkeyes were going to beat Nebraska in a blowout. Then they were going to just win comfortably. Then they were locked in a nail-biter. A 12-point lead with two minutes shrunk to nine ... then six ... then five ... then three. Kathleen Doyle missed a pair from the charity stripe. Then Tania Davis missed a pair, and Chase Coley followed suit.

But despite those six straight "free" misses, Iowa held on. It beat Nebraska 75-72 for its first Big Ten win.

Iowa's Chase Coley puts up a shot during the Hawkeyes' game against Robert Morris at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016.

"Can you transcribe a big 'Phew!'" coach Lisa Bluder chuckled after the game. "I'm not sure how you do that, but that's kind of how I feel right now. It feels good to get our first Big Ten win. We made it as hard as possible to end this game."

It ended poorly, but this game started about as well as it could have. Particularly for Davis, who had a forgettable zero-point, four-turnover day against Illinois.

That stat line be damned: Davis stepped into a deep 3 just eight seconds into the game and drilled it. The basket set a tone for the whole game — that it would not end the same as it did in Champaign, Ill.

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"I would say we got back after the (Illinois) game, reflected on it, then watched some more film the following day," Ally Disterhoft said. "And then, once we had hit the court for practice, you’re done with it, and we were focusing on Nebraska.

"I’m speaking, I think, for the team, but just the fact that it was a quick turnaround, like we said, (let us) kind of just flush (the loss), get out there — get the mojo back, per se. (That) was really nice."

Davis finished with 11 points and eight assists. Megan Gustafson led with 22 points and nine boards. Disterhoft netted double figures yet again, with 16, and Kathleen Doyle had 10. The group forced 22 Nebraska turnovers. They outscored the Huskers 40-26 in the paint and 14-4 from the bench. And they held them to 32 percent shooting in the final frame.

"Quite honestly, although it was a pretty close game, it kind of felt like we had a handle on it the whole game," Disterhoft said. "So that’s a good feeling."

She's right.

Iowa led for nearly 36 minutes. Nebraska hung tough, mostly thanks to Jessica Shepard's 28 points, until late in the third, when Iowa led 50-49 with 2:27 on the clock.

That's when Makenzie Meyer spearheaded an 11-5 scoring run. She found Hannah Stewart in the paint for an easy bucket, drained a corner 3 off a pass from Davis and drew two fouls on drives to the bucket, going 3-for-4 from the line.

Kathleen Doyle used to be a signee of the Huskers. Now she's about to play them.

The Hawkeyes took a 61-54 lead into the fourth and swelled their lead to 75-63 with two minutes left.

They were still off from 3-point land (6-for-21; Disterhoft made four). But their turnover numbers were much better than against Illinois, when they committed 23-for-24 Illini points. Iowa coughed it up 15 times to Nebraska, who turned those into 19 points. (Still not ideal, but a tad better.)

"At the start of the game, I thought our energy was really good," Bluder said. "I thought the team really came ready to play today. I thought we created some great offense with our defense in the first quarter. But I think we had four people in double figures today. We lowered our turnovers, so that was good to see."

Iowa travels to play Penn State next Tuesday at 6 p.m. The Nittany Lions are 10-4, 0-2 in the Big Ten. They lost to Rutgers on Saturday.

Bain covers Hawkeyes' basketball for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at mbain@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.