WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Statistics often tell the story more for the loser than the victor.
Free-throw misses and dozens of missed shots doomed Iowa in its second straight road loss, this one a 65-62 overtime heartbreaker at Purdue. After an impressive 9-for-9 run at the free-throw line early, Iowa sank only 2-of-6 attempts in the final minute or overtime. It cost the Hawkeyes a chance to take a three-point lead with 47.5 seconds left and a shot at keeping up in overtime.
“That’s the unfortunate thing. We were making them,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “We were making them at over 80 percent and then we missed … Dev (Marble) missed one that would have put us up three. Mike (Gesell) missed one …”
The Hawkeyes (13-7, 2-5 Big Ten) rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit to take leads three different times late in regulation. Marble missed the second of two free throws late in regulation, which allowed Purdue to tie the game on an impressive double-screen layup with 33.3 seconds left.
Iowa matched scores with Purdue on the teams’ first three overtime possessions until Aaron White was fouled hard with 1:24 left. White uncharacteristically missed both attempts. White made 13 of 15 against Wisconsin two games ago but is five of 12 over Iowa’s last two games.
“I was missing them short at Ohio State, too,” White said. “It’s frustrating. It’s something I got to work on. I’ve got to make those.”
While Iowa’s free-throw shooting woes are prominent and recent, the team’s overall offensive performance was lackluster. Iowa knocked down only four of 26 in the first half and at one point made only seven of 40. The Hawkeyes later got into a rhythm, making 12 of 21 to finish the game.
Iowa shot only 25 percent — eight of 32 — in the first half at Ohio State. For most of Sunday’s game, Iowa worked for good shots and effectively ran its offense but nothing was falling.
“The first half was as strange of a half that I’ve even been involved with in terms of our ability to get anything going, whether it be in transition or whether it would be set plays, motion, in the post, on the perimeter,” McCaffery said. “We just couldn’t get anything going.
“We had shots we could have and should have made.”
The issues are a little more raw at the individual level. Marble, the team’s leading scorer, was a combined five of 36 from the field against Indiana, Ohio State and Purdue and 17 of 61 in league play. Marble hit all but one of his nine free-throw attempts on Sunday, but made just two of 11 from the field. He missed a floater at the end of regulation that would have won the game.
“It went as planned, other than missing and not scoring,” Marble said. “It was good execution.
“It was a good shot. It went in and out. There’s not much I can do about that except make it next time.”
Sophomore guard Josh Oglesby, the team’s designated 3-point sharpshooter, is six of 26 from 3-point range in Big Ten play. Freshman center Adam Woodbury has scored two points in each of Iowa’s last five games, making just four of 20 over that span.
“I thought Woodbury played well (Sunday),” McCaffery said. “Offensively, obviously, he had only two points. I thought he was substantially better. He was all over the glass, he made plays, he was playing away from the basket, helping our team.
“Josh is struggling, and that’s a little bit confusing because of how well he’s playing and shooting in practice. I keep talking about that. Perhaps the only thing I can do would be to play him more. It’s a fine line. If you put him in and he’s not hitting and he’s not making plays, how long can I stay with him? I think the only thing that’s going to help him settle down is to leave him in there.”
White said afterward Iowa “kind of had a stagnant offense,” lacking tempo and missing its fast break. At 2-5 in Big Ten play, the team had better find its tempo — and its offense — fast.
1. Iowa players must avoid finger-pointing. With the team embroiled in an offensive funk, it’s imperative for the players to stick together if they want to mount a charge toward the postseason. Iowa faces Nebraska and Penn State twice, which are a combined 2-14 in Big Ten play, as well as Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois at home. It’s not a stretch to believe Iowa will compete in every one of those games, considering they’ve only been blown out once and that was at probable No. 1 Michigan.
“That’s not where we wanted to be, but we can’t make any more excuses,” Iowa junior Melsahn Basabe said. “We can’t put our heads down. The only thing we can do is go out and get wins and address what’s going on. It’s as simple as that. We have to win. We have to attack this, no matter how discouraging some of these losses are.
“We’ve been in really tight games. That falls on veterans like me because that’s when we’re supposed to pull it out.”
2. Road wins are never easy for a young team learning to win. In the second half of Iowa’s last two games, the Hawkeyes fell behind by 24 at Ohio State and 11 at Purdue. Both times Iowa cut its deficit to manageable levels — four points at OSU, a three-point lead at Purdue — but couldn’t muster enough mental toughness to close it out.
In a league this good, teams have to stomp an opponent’s resistance with flawless, late-game execution. That especially includes making free throws down the stretch.
“I think we’re right there,” said Iowa freshman guard Mike Gesell, who scored a game-high 18 points. “A few mental aspects down the stretch, we showed our youth a little bit. But we’ll get rid of those and learn from this game and move forward.”
“We need to learn but at the end of the day we just need to win games,” Basabe said. “There’s nothing else to it.”
3. Anger is good. There’s no apathy on this roster toward the final result. The players and coaches genuinely are tired of losing close, winnable games. That’s what you want from a team with goals and expectations. Nobody wants to hear flattering remarks about the program anymore.
“I don’t know when you lose a game that you’re pleased about anything, to be frank,” McCaffery said.
McCaffery often says Marble has amnesia because the junior guard often forgets about good plays and bad plays so he can concentrate on the task at hand. After missing a game-winning shot at the end of regulation, it’s likely Marble will have insomnia instead.
“You can’t let it stick too long, but it will be playing in my head long after I talk to you,” he said.