By Pat Harty
With the Iowa men’s basketball team leading lowly Nebraska by 16 points early in the second half, I made the mistake of assuming that Iowa would prevail and started writing this column as if that were the case.
I figured with that big of a lead, and with Nebraska only having seven players on scholarship, that Iowa would have enough to win a game that it desperately needed to win.
But as it turns out, I overestimated the struggling Hawkeyes and underestimated the struggling Cornhuskers, who scored 16 points in the final 56.6 seconds of regulation and then prevailed 93-91 in overtime on Sunday in Lincoln, Neb.
Iowa ended the regular season with four consecutive losses and will limp into the Big Ten Tournament as the sixth seed. Iowa will face the winner of Wednesday’s game between Illinois and Northwestern on Thursday at the United Center in Chicago.
The Hawkeyes finished the regular season with records of 21-10 overall and 10-10 in the Big Ten, which should be enough to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three seasons.
But unless Iowa can win at least one or two games in the conference tournament, it’ll have no momentum heading into the Big Dance, assuming it already has done enough to be invited.
Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon nearly worked his late-game magic again by hitting some huge shots and free throws down the stretch in regulation.
But his potential game-winning shot from 3-point range in overtime was blocked by walk-on Thorir Thorbjarnarson.
His defensive stop triggered a wild post-game celebration on Senior Day for a Nebraska team that had lost its previous five games.
There was some talk on Twitter that Bohannon was fouled on the shot, but the officials saw it differently.
And that’s all that matters.
Iowa’s second-half collapse spoiled the return of head coach Fran McCaffery, who was suspended for the previous two games for berating an official in the moments after a 90-70 loss against Ohio State on Feb. 26th in Columbus.
McCaffery was asked after Sunday's loss what he would tell his players.
"Nobody is going to fee sorry for them," he said. "And they have to understand that we did some real good things in this game. And we did some things that weren't so good."
There were some bright spots for Iowa, including having four players score in double figures, led by sophomore center Luka Garza with 25 points.
Bohannon finished with 20 points, while freshman Joe Wieskamp scored 14 points and junior Isaiah Moss chipped in with 10.
But for the second game in a row, Iowa junior forward Tyler Cook struggled on offense. He was held to just nine points before fouling out in overtime, and after having been held scoreless for the first time as a Hawkeye in the 65-45 loss at Wisconsin this past Thursday.
Sunday’s loss had more to do with Iowa’s inability to defend down the stretch because 91 points should be enough to win a Big Ten game.
"I thought we broke down defensively in some key situations and their good players got going," McCaffery said. "So you've got to learn from it and you've got to move on. You can't feel sorry for yourself."
The Cornhuskers did make some huge 3-point baskets during their furious comeback, including some with a defender in their face.
But they also scored with penetration and in transition as Iowa’s defense became a sieve down the stretch.
Senior James Palmer led Nebraska in scoring with 27 points and was huge during the comeback. Fellow senior Glynn Watson finished with 23 points, as did junior forward Isaiah Roby before fouling out in overtime.
As for Bohannon's shot at the end, McCaffery said they got the shot they wanted, but the defender made a stop.
"The kid made a great play," McCaffery said. "He recognized it and came from a pretty good distance to close out."
The Iowa players now have to put this loss behind them and try to salvage what was once a promising season.
Iowa still is in position to make the NCAA Tournament, but how it gets there is now a major concern.
Iowa has collapsed down the stretch before under McCaffery and that appears to be what is happening now.
"We've had tough losses before," McCaffery said when asked how tough it will be to put Sunday's loss behind them. "We've had a tremendous season and it doesn't change what happenes next week."
The team’s leading scorer is struggling to score, the defense is struggling to make stops and the losses are starting to take a toll.
That is hardly how a team wants to enter postseason.