By Pat Harty
There has been a good side and a bad side to Iowa’s season so far and the bad side resurfaced again on Thursday as Big Ten play resumed.
And that seems to be the connection as No. 25 Iowa fell to 0-3 in conference play with a disappointing 86-70 loss against Purdue at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.
The Big Ten has brought out the bad side of an Iowa team that finished undefeated in nonconference play (11-0) for the first time since the 1986-87 season.
Iowa lost back-to-back games against Wisconsin on Nov. 30th and at Michigan State on Dec. 3rd, but then reeled off five consecutive wins against nonconference opponents, including Iowa State.
The Hawkeyes have shown signs of improvement on defense, but Thursday’s game at Purdue was similaar to last season when Iowa allowed nearly 80 points per game.
Purdue scored 42 points in the paint exactly one month after Michigan State had scored 46 points in the paint against Iowa.
Once is disappointing, but to allow more than 40 points in the paint in back-to-back conference games is a concern.
The second half was mostly just a formality as Iowa fell behind by as many 26 points after trailing 52-37 at halftime.
Iowa has now trailed by at least 17 points in its last 11 Big Ten road games, which is disturbing to say the least.
Junior forward Tyler Cook did his part on offense by scoring 24 points, but it was a lack of defense that doomed Iowa, although, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery praised junior guard Isaiah Moss on his Learfield post-game radio show for his defense against Purdue's star junior guard Carsen Edwards, who finished with 21 points, nearly five below his 25.8 per-game average.
"Our defense wasn't what it needed to be, but that said, Isaiah Moss did a terrific job on Carsen Edwards, McCaffery said. "I'm really proud of Isaiah Moss because he accepted the challenge.
"The difficulty at the other end was that we exceuted at times, and we didn't execute at times. We quick shot it. But they put a lot of heat on you and the crowd is into the game. And then all the sudden we're quick-shooting the ball. We needed longer possessions and when we did that we got good shots."
Both teams came into Thursday’s game in serious need of a win despite it being just the third game in a 20-game conference schedule.
The Big Ten is deep, rugged and relentless, and to start 0-3 is now cause for major concern, especially in the wake of last season’s stunning decline in which Iowa finished 4-14 in the conference and 14-19 overall.
Thursday’s game seemed about as winnable as a Big Ten road game could be this season because Purdue has shown little signs of being a conference contender..
Even with the high-scoring Edwards, Purdue is not at the same level as last season when it advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16.
All-Big Ten forward Vince Edwards and massive 7-2 center Isaac Haas have moved on, leaving behind a team that is limited on offense.
But they weren’t needed in Tuesday’s game because Purdue had plenty of firepower to crush the Hawkeyes, who are almost certain to fall out of the top-25 polls.
Iowa certainly could have used 6-foot-11 sophomore center Luka Garza, who missed his third game in a row because of an ankle injury.
But to say that he would have changed the outcome of a 26-point loss seems unreasonable.
"He was okay to play," McCaffery said of Garza. "He would not have been himself. It would not be fair to him, or to the team to run him out there if he's not close to 100 percent. He's about 75 (percent), so he's really been deligent in his rehabilitation. I'm proud of him. But I would never put one of my guys in jeopardy. We need him for the long haul. And when he comes back, he'll come back ready."
Purdue carved up Iowa’s defense in the first half, shooting 63 percent from the field and compiling 16 assists and just one turnover.
The Boilermakers made eight of their final 10 shots in the first half and led 52-37 at the break.
Iowa made 6-of-10 shots from 3-point range in the first half, but was just 5-for-15 from 2-point range.
But it was defense where Iowa struggled the most in the first half, which ended with nobody from Iowa picking up Edwards in transition, and that allowed him to get to the rim for an easy layup right before the halftime buzzer.
His basket was symbolic of Iowa’s performance on defense in the first half, and Iowa’s performance on defense in the first half was symbolic of last season.
The hope at halftime was that Iowa would regroup on defense and continue shoot well from 3-point range in the second half.
One thing this Iowa team does well is score points in a hurry, but the second half was more of the same as Purdue continued to pour it on.
Purdue has defeated Iowa in nine of the last 10 games at Mackey Arena, which was filled with emotion as former Purdue student and super fan Tyler Trent was honored.
Iowa did its part to honor Trent by wearing #TylerStrong shirts during warmups.
Trent inspired the nation with how he courageously battled against a rare form of bone cancer. He lost that battle on Tuesday, but his memory will live on,
Iowa now has just two days to prepare for Sunday’s game against Nebraska at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
And with Thursday’s loss at Purdue, it seems fair to call the Nebraska game a must win if Iowa hopes to make a postseason tournament
"We got to learn from what we didn't do and also learn from what wedid well," McCaffery said.