By Pat Harty
Just when you thought the Iowa men’s basketball team was maybe having a turnaround, it reverted back to its losing ways on Saturday at Penn State.
The Hawkeyes were trying to win back-to-back Big Ten games for the first time this season, but the Nittany Lions had different plans.
Penn State broke open a close game midway through the first half and then cruised to an 82-58 victory in State College, Pa.
A close game suddenly became a rout as Penn State turned a 14-14 tie into a 47-28 halftime lead, and then Iowa never drew closer than 14 points in the second half.
Penn State swept Iowa for just the second time ever and improved to 16-9 overall and 6-6 in the Big Ten, while Iowa fell to 3-9 and 12-13.
Iowa forward Tyler Cook talked about being accountable on the post-game radio show without mentioning anybody specific.
Cook played well at times and led Iowa with 19 points, but much of it came in the second half when the game was all but decided.
The Hawkeyes now have to win their final six games just to finish .500 in the Big Ten and up next is Michigan State on Tuesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena followed by Ohio State next Saturday in Columbus and Michigan on Feb. 14 in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Iowa should be a huge underdog in the next three games.
“It’s the Big Ten, so you never have a night off,” Cook said. “Every team in this league is really good in their own way.”
It makes sense that Cook would say that about the teams in his conference, but it isn’t true, and not even close to being true.
There are only three teams in the Big Ten – Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan State – that deserve to be called really good at this stage, and Iowa plays two of them in the next three games.
Sophomore point guard Jordan Bohannon has two days to recover from whatever caused him to break down in Saturday’s game.
He played 24 minutes and made just one 3-point basket, snapping his streak of making at least five 3-points baskets in five consecutive road games.
“He’s a tough kid,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Bohannon. “He tried to gut it out.”
Bohannon made his only three early in the game and then had another erased a short while later due to an illegal screen by Cordell Pemsl..
McCaffery eventually decided to rest Bohannon in hopes of getting him healthy for the Michigan State game on Tuesday.
The fact that Iowa was getting crushed probably helped McCaffery make that decision.
“I think he was just battling and battling and battling and they were making him work and I think he just kind of ran out of gas,” McCaffery said. “It just felt like he was really struggling. He just wasn’t himself. I think that’s obvious. He wasn’t seeing it and it got to a point in the game where I just wasn’t going to push it any farther.
“We’ve got a game Tuesday night. We’ve got to get him back healthy, and I know he’ll come back ready.”
Iowa entered Saturday’s game having won two of its previous three games, including a 94-80 victory over Minnesota this past Tuesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. So there was hope that Iowa was in the midst of a turnaround, but hope quickly turned into more frustration.
Iowa only made 1-of-10 3-point shots, was outscored 50-30 in the paint, held to a season-low seven assists and was shredded on defense.
Penn State is the sixth Big Ten opponent to defeat Iowa by at least 11 points this season.
An Iowa team that was expected to contend for an NCAA Tournament berth with four returning starters from a 19-win team is now trying to avoid last place in the conference.
Iowa is at risk of finishing in last place in the conference as it only leads both Illinois and Rutgers by just one game in the win column.
The Hawkeyes showed a pulse early in the second on Saturday by scoring eight consecutive points, narrowing the gap to 14 points.
But this wasn’t a repeat of the Jan. 11 game at Illinois when Iowa overcame a double-digit deficit to win 104-97 in overtime.
This was just more of the same misery from a team that continues to baffle with its level of dysfunction.
“It just seems like every time we started to get something going, something else went sideways,” McCaffery said.
You could say the same about the season.