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Iowa Basketball’s Road Set to Get Even Tougher

Lost opportunities in the early season are dooming a youthful Hawkeyes team.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech Hokies forward P.J. Horne (14) and Iowa Hawkeyes forward Nicholas Baer (51) fight for a loose ball in the first half at Cassell Coliseum.
Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

In a contest that featured two potential bubble teams in the Big Ten, Penn State got the much-needed conference win as they edged the Iowa Hawkeyes, 77-73, in a crucial start to the conference season.

It’s odd to call the first game of any conference slate crucial, but that’s unfortunately where the Hawkeyes find themselves with a 4-4 record and losses in four of their last five against beatable opponents. This also includes a horrendous shooting effort in the second half against Virginia Tech on Nov. 28 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Statistically, Iowa outplayed Penn State in numerous categories on Saturday. The Hawkeyes shot 51 percent to the Nittany Lions’ 44 percent. They outrebounded Penn State, 39-30. They had more second-chance points (13-11), bench points (19-0), and points in the paint (42-26).

But Penn State hurt Iowa where it hurt the most hitting 12 three-pointers on 23 attempts for a 52 percent clip from beyond the arc compared to Iowa’s 4-for-12 mark from three-point range.

Tyler Cook led the Hawkeyes with 23 points and 12 rebounds — his first rebound of the game — and had a particularly scary dunk with 1:11 left in the game to bring the game within a single possession. In a game where Iowa cut it down to one possession 10 times in the second half, the Hawkeyes were never able to take the lead.

"We tried to mix some defenses," Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery told following Penn State. "We had a little bit of success with our press and zone, but our zone was not good enough. It was OK at times, but it needs to be better.

"Our defense was much more active in the second half, but they made some big shots. When a team makes 12 3s, you're going to have a hard time beating them. We can't give up 12 threes."

Inconsistency has hindered the Hawkeyes, though they have multiple players performing well, including the sophomore trio of Cook, Jordan Bohannon, and Isaiah Moss. Iowa held Virginia Tech to a tied game through the first half of its Big Ten/ACC Challenge tilt before the Hawkeyes shooting disappeared. The Hokies defense suffocated the Hawkeyes in the second half and held them to just 19 percent from the field.

Iowa needed the win against Penn State especially with two road games coming up against Indiana and Iowa State.

With last season being the most inexperienced club in Iowa history, folks might’ve thought this year’s Hawkeyes had a decent shot as a bubble team with Cook and company in their second year paired with a couple of talented freshmen and last season’s Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year — Nicholas Baer. But with the way that Fran McCaffery’s teams are playing, paired with the fact that the Big Ten was just blown out in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge — costing several Big Ten teams important resume wins — a spot might not be necessarily waiting for a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team this year.

The Hawkeyes do have talented freshman and sophomores which will make for exciting years going forward, but on a night like Saturday Bohannon, Moss and other 3-point shooters will need to try and match the efforts of Penn State. Instead, those two only went 3-for-7 from beyond the arc.

Iowa heads to Bloomington for a showdown against Indiana at 7:03 p.m. Monday before they matchup against rival Iowa State on Thursday, Dec. 7 in Ames, Iowa.