EUGENE, Ore. — Iowa forward Aaron White embraced Coach Fran McCaffery in the hallway outside the Hawkeyes’ locker room.
The hug was filled with emotion and mutual respect in the aftermath of Iowa’s 108-97 loss to Oregon in the National Invitation Tournament second round Sunday afternoon. White then stepped in front of reporters and stated the obvious mixed outcome for Iowa.
“We couldn’t get the stops we needed,” White said. “We let that lead we built early get away from us. We couldn’t play any better from the offensive end; we couldn’t play any worse on the defensive end.”
There’s the game — and ultimately the season — boiled down into a paragraph, deciphered by a college freshman. Iowa scored at will, especially in the first half. Oregon scored virtually on every second-half possession.
Iowa (18-17) soared to a 15-point lead with 10:41 left in the first half. Of Iowa’s 31 points, 21 came from 3-point range. Iowa sank seven of its first eight 3-point attempts and 12-of-17 shots overall. Sophomore guard Devyn Marble was untouchable, making all five shots during the spurt, including four 3-pointers.
Senior point guard Bryce Cartwright directed the offense to precision, at one point putting up eight assists to only one turnover.
“Offensively, we can’t play any better than that,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “Our game plan, we attacked the press; the press was a non-factor. They played a match-up (zone); it was a non-factor. We got everybody involved.”
“Everybody likes to score and get assists,” Marble said. “I think that’s what really gets us going and why we were able to score the ball so well and so easy. Unfortunately they were scoring the ball just as easy if not easier.”
But Oregon stayed tough and chipped at Iowa’s lead through the half. Iowa clung to a nine-point lead with 1:53 left in the half, but Oregon’s E.J. Singler drained a 3-pointer, and Olu Ashaolu hit a pair of free throws to cut the Ducks’ deficit to 51-47 at halftime.
Everything had changed, from the mood in the arena to the scoreboard.
“I thought at the end of first half we had a double-digit lead, and we couldn’t take that into halftime,” McCaffery said. “They got momentum. We had the last shot of the half; it doesn’t go. If that goes in, we’re up seven or six. It’s different.”
Iowa led 58-51 after Marble’s sixth 3-pointer of the game. Then the second half morphed into chaos, and all of it favored Oregon.
With 13 minutes left in the game, the teams went on offensive runs that suggested defense was optional. The Ducks scored on 13-of-14 possessions, and six were 3-pointers. Iowa didn’t back down offensively, scoring on 12 of 13 possessions. However Iowa had only one 3-pointer in that period. The Hawkeyes went from trailing 64-63 to down 97-85 with 5:25 left.
“In that one stretch in the second half — after the poor finish to the first half — it seemed like they were making every shot,” McCaffery said. “We were trying to mix in the press and the zone and the man and trying to find something that worked. But our effort level wasn’t where it needed to be. I thought we were a little bit tired, had a little bit of foul trouble. They really got going, and the crowd got into it.”
The free-throw disparity also hit Iowa hard. With 7:24 left in the game, Oregon had shot 21 free throws and made 19. Iowa had shot five and made four.
When asked about the difference, McCaffery kind of laughed and said, “Are you trying to say what I can’t say?”
Oregon finished the second half by scoring on 19-of-24 possessions and shooting 72 percent in the final 20 minutes. The Ducks scored 61 points in the second half.
The result dampened Marble’s final statistics. He scored a career-high 31 points, the most by an Iowa player in the postseason since Ed Horton’s 32 points in 1989. Marble drained his first seven 3-point attempts, dished five assists and grabbed five rebounds. He also committed no turnovers.
It was a tough finish for Cartwright, Matt Gatens and Andrew Brommer. For Gatens, who scored seven points, it was a bitter end, mostly because of the squandered lead and non-existent defense.
“Our defense wasn’t there,” he said. “To give up over 100 … to me that’s unacceptable.
“It’s disappointing because we could have had that one.”
Marble 10-15 4-4 31, McCabe 3-6 1-2 8, White 7-17 7-8 22, Gatens 3-10 0-0 7, Cartwright 6-11 0-0 12, Olaseni 0-1 0-0 0, Basabe 8-13 1-1 17, Oglesby 0-1 0-0 0, Brommer 0-1 0-0 0, May 0-4 0-0 0, Stokes 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 37-79 13-15 97.
Jacob 2-2 0-0 4, Singler 9-10 4-4 25, Woods 3-4 0-0 6, Sim 4-10 4-4 15, Joseph 5-10 2-2 15, Ashaolu 7-10 8-11 22, Loyd 1-4 0-0 2, Nared 0-1 0-0 0, Emory 4-8 10-11 19. Totals 35-59 28-32 108.
Halftime_Iowa 51-47. 3-Point Goals_Iowa 10-22 (Marble 7-8, McCabe 1-1, White 1-5, Gatens 1-7, May 0-1), Oregon 10-23 (Singler 3-4, Sim 3-6, Joseph 3-7, Emory 1-3, Nared 0-1, Loyd 0-2). Fouled Out_Basabe, McCabe. Rebounds_Iowa 36 (Basabe, White 8), Oregon 32 (Emory 7). Assists_Iowa 19 (Cartwright 10), Oregon 26 (Joseph 8). Total Fouls_Iowa 23, Oregon 16. A_8,647.