By Pat Harty
A dramatic comeback, a 26-point second half by Peter Jok, a controversial call near the end of regulation and two overtimes were just part of what unfolded between Iowa and Minnesota on Wednesday in Minneapolis.
Williams Arena has been the scene of many classic showdowns between the Hawkeyes and Gophers in men's basketball and this latest chapter certainly lived up to the hype.
Minnesota hung on for a 101-89 double-overtime victory in a game that had 18 lead changes, 14 ties and one controversial call that will haunt Iowa fans forever.
It came when Iowa guard Brady Ellingson got trapped on his own baseline with 20.3 seconds remaining in regulation, and with Iowa leading 77-75. Ellingson appeared to call for a timeout, as did at least two of his teammates, but the officials apparently didn’t see them.
Nor did the officials see that Minnesota forward Jordan Murphy was standing with his left foot on the baseline when he helped to force Ellingson into a jump ball and a change of possession.
Minnesota guard Nate Mason then made a basket with 8.4 seconds remaining to force the game into overtime.
Iowa, which trailed by 14 points in the second half, had plenty of chances to seize the momentum in both overtimes, but couldn’t get the job done against a Minnesota team that was desperate for a victory.
The reaction on social media was harsh towards the officials, with many Hawkeye fans saying that one call cost Iowa the game.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery didn’t say anything specific about the officiating on his post-game radio show, but he was clearly upset and frustrated with more than just losing.
“Let’s just say there are a lot of things that I’m upset about right now,” McCaffery said without being more specific. “But the effort of our guys is certainly not one of them. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Iowa could send a tape of the controversial call, or no-call depending on your side of things, to the Big Ten Office. But what good would that do?
It might cause some discomfort for the officials, but it won’t change Wednesday’s result.
Iowa had a chance to win its fourth consecutive game and to climb two games above .500 in the conference, but failed to do so and now sits at 14-11 overall and 6-6 in the Big Ten heading into Saturday’s game at Michigan State.
Wednesday’s game was critical for both teams, but maybe even more so for the Gophers, who entered 4-6 in conference play and with a head coach who needs to win as many games as possible as soon as possible.
Richard Pitino’s father helped him land the Minnesota job, but at some point little Richard has to produce, and time is running out.
One of the subplots to Wednesday’s game besides the officiating was the performance of Iowa senior Peter Jok, who scored 26 of his 28 points after halftime.
Jok was a non-factor on offense in the first half, attempting just three shots, while redshirt freshman guard Isaiah Moss picked up the slack by scoring seven of Iowa’s first 11 points and had 12 by halftime.
Jok waited patiently for his chance on offense and it came early in the second half. Once he saw one shot go down, the 6-foot-6 Jok was close to unstoppable after that.
“I wasn’t really myself in the first half,” Jok said. “I had to get back into my rhythm. And then in the second half I got a couple easy baskets and got back into my rhythm.”
Minnesota led 40-29 at halftime and led by 13 points at 56-43 when Jok made a conventional 3-point play with 11 minutes, 41 seconds left in regulation.
That triggered a 14-0 scoring run that was capped by a Jok layup, giving Iowa a 57-56 lead with slightly more than nine minutes remaining. Jok scored 10 of Iowa’s 14 points during the run.
“They told me they wanted me to step up and take over,” Jok said of his teammates and coaches. “They were looking for me to take charge, and that’s what I did.”
Both teams struggled on offense in the first overtime, scoring just seven points apiece.
Freshman point guard Jordan Bohannon made a 3-point basket to give Iowa an 87-86 lead early in the second overtime.
But then Minnesota finished the game on a 15-2 scoring run, improving to 17-7 overall and 5-6 in the Big Ten.
“Overall, it was a great team effort,” Pitino said. “Iowa is going to be awesome down the road, obviously. They have terrific offensive talent.”
There are lots of positives to take from Wednesday’s gut-wrenching loss, including the fact that Iowa refused to wilt despite playing so many freshmen.
The future looks incredibly bright, but the present doesn’t look too bad, either. Iowa is a longshot to make the NCAA Tournament at this stage, but there was a point in the season when you wondered if Iowa would even finish with a winning record.
Jok appears to be his old self again after missing two recent games because of a stiff back, while Moss and Bohannon continue to impress.
Bohannon played 45 minutes on Wednesday and had just one turnover.
There still is so much to like about this Iowa team once you get past the frustration of losing in double overtime.