The Iowa men’s basketball team continued to struggle from distance and will need to play much better moving forward if it wants to have any chance at an NCAA berth.
But, the Hawkeyes got a career-high 27 points from Aaron White and Melsahn Basabe recorded his first double-double of the season in his first start of the year as Iowa kept Penn State winless in the Big Ten with a 76-67 win.
“We didn't rebound as well as we should have and we didn't execute as well as we should have,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “Those are two bad things. So if you do three bad things, you lose. We did enough to get home, that's good.”
It was hardly an impressive win, but it is better than a loss. That would have been crippling to an NCAA Tournament portfolio.
The Hawkeyes were just 5-of-21 from long range but made a season high 31 free throws out of a season-high 39 attempts. Iowa got 27 bench points and scored 26 points in the paint in the win and improved to 14-7 on the season.
White was great for the Hawkeyes, scoring 27 points and hitting 10-of-11 from the line. That came one game after he missed some key free throws against Purdue.
“Look back at our losses and missed free throws played a role,” White said. “We need to make free throws. We made them tonight, but we need to continue to make them on the road.”
McCaffery liked White’s energy from start to finish.
“You know, he played tonight with great energy. I wouldn't have said that we'd be able to play him 34 minutes. He seems to have been tiring a little bit to where I need to play him 28,” McCaffery said. “But we just felt like he was affecting the game at both ends and we needed to leave him out there. When we took him out, it was time to put him back in. He was terrific.”
The Hawkeyes (14-7, 3-5) trailed 10-3 in the early stages of the contest but then used a 14-0 run to go up 17-10. White scored the first five during that stretch and Josh Oglesby ended the run with his only triple of the game. He was just 1-of-5 from distance, while Roy Devyn Marble was 1-of-6.
“It changed everything,” McCaffery said of the defensive intensity. “It was important to get back in it after you fall behind 8 1. I think it was a 16-2 run there. You're right, it was defense in transition.”
Iowa went up 30-19 later on Marble’s dunk and carried an eight-point advantage into the locker room.
Penn State (8-13, 0-9) made it closer than it should have been with multiple rallies in the second half. The first run cut the Iowa lead to 39-36 with 16:55 to play in the game, but a 13-2 run by the Hawkeyes pushed their advantage back to 14 with 12:44 to play. Iowa hit 8-of-8 from the line during that run, including 4-of-4 by Basabe.
“He had a couple really good days of practice and he'd been playing really well,” McCaffery said of Basabe. “Like I said, I don't always like to make changes when a guy's playing really well where he is in the role that he's in. But I felt like he had earned the right to start, so I put him in the starting lineup.”
A 3-pointer by Clemmons, who came off the bench, put Iowa up 62-47, but Penn State again rallied to make it 69-62 with 1:32 to play in the game. Iowa put the game away by hitting 5-of-8 from the line in the final two minutes, but it was not as easy as it should have been.
“We didn't execute. It's not easy. You're trying to protect the lead. You don't want to quick shoot the ball,” McCaffery said. “Our execution when we were trying to run clock, run a set late in the clock, that wasn't very good. Then we turned the ball over in the backcourt against the press with four time outs. We can't do that.”
Luckily, the NCAA Tournament Committee does not look at scores and focuses on wins. Otherwise, Iowa would not get much credit for this contest.
“What we need to do is play a little bit better, again, offensively,” McCaffery said. “That's been a little bit of a struggle for us. We hit some more jumpers tonight, that was good to see. But our execution is still a little bit off. It's closer. They're working at it. They're trying, but it's got to be better.”
Clemmons and Marble each finished with eight points in the win, and Marble also had five assists. He was just 3-of-10 from the floor in the game and is just 7-of-32 in his last three games. Clemmons was 5-of-6 from the foul line.
D.J. Newbill had 20 points and six boards to lead the Nittany Lion, who are now 0-9 in Big Ten play. Jermaine Marshall chipped in 15 points, four rebounds and four assists.
Iowa is now 11-2 at home this year and is 12-2 when leading at halftime. Penn State turned it over 18 times in the loss.
"We need this," White said. "It's getting to the point where we need to win as much as possible. We only have about 10 games left."
Iowa will next play at 23rd ranked Minnesota at 12:06 p.m. Sunday.