IOWA CITY — Six minutes into Thursday night’s game and trailing Penn State by seven points, Iowa needed someone to step up as a go-to player.
Sophomore Aaron White stepped forward, then showed out for the Hawkeyes in a 76-67 win against the Nittany Lions at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. White, who moved to small forward in the starting lineup, scored seven consecutive points on three straight possessions en route to a career-high 27-point performance.
Iowa (14-7, 3-5 Big Ten) scored just twice on its first eight possessions and trailed 10-3. White first scored on a layup, then followed with a basket and a foul. Then after pulling down a defensive rebound, White raced down the floor and scored off a crisp Zach McCabe pass.
“Coach (Fran McCaffery) keeps saying we need to find someone that when times get tough you’ve got to be able to go to and step up as a leader,” White said. “It was 8-1 and we all knew we had to make something happen. The transition really got us going. If that’s what helped, I tried to step up and got a few easy buckets.”
White later pushed the Hawkeyes’ lead to nine points with a 3-pointer. He sank four more free throws on four attempts to finish with 14 points in the first half. To go along with his game-high 27 points, White was 10-of-11 from the free-throw line, grabbed five rebounds — including four offensive — and blocked two shots.
“He played (last night) with great energy,” McCaffery said. “I wouldn’t have said that we’d be able to play him 34 minutes. He seems to have been tiring a little bit to where I need to play him 28.
“But we just felt like he was affecting the game at both ends, and we needed to leave him out there. When we took him out, time to put him back in. He was terrific.”
White’s play was necessary to elevate the Hawkeyes past a two-game losing slump after consecutive road losses at Ohio State and Purdue. Iowa’s offense sputtered early, as did last week. White shifted to small forward at the start when McCaffery inserted junior power forward Melsahn Basabe into the lineup and taking out point guard Anthony Clemmons.
White was able to get out in front in Iowa’s transition and make plays.
Penn State (8-13, 0-9 Big Ten) cut Iowa’s lead from 13 to seven points with 1:30 left in the game. White then drove to the basket, scored and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but the Hawkeyes kept the possession alive and White scored inside to push the lead back to 12.
“Aaron White is a great player,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said. “They are playing him at the wing, they are playing him at the three, at the four. He can coverage anybody on the floor. When they need a big shot, he hits a big shot. When they need a big rebound, he gets a big rebound and he gets an extra possession for them. He is relentless. He is a big-time player.”
Here’s the first-half recap:
Iowa rallied from an early seven-point deficit and stormed to a 34-26 halftime lead against Penn State on Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes (13-7, 2-5 Big Ten) trailed 10-3 with 15:30 left in the first half. Iowa then rallied with a 14-0 run, spurred with seven straight points from Aaron White. The run was capped by a Josh Oglesby 3-pointer to push Iowa up 17-10.
The Nittany Lions (8-12, 0-8 Big Ten) hung around for most of the half and immediately cut Iowa’s lead to four. But Iowa kept up the pressure on both sides ends of the court and took a 32-21 lead with 1:32 left on a thunderous Melsahn Basabe dunk. Basabe however was hit with a technical foul for apparently making unsportsmanlike gestures afterward.
White leads all scorers with 14 points. Basabe has five rebounds and Adam Woodbury has four.
Iowa switched up its starting lineup, shifting Basabe in and taking out point guard Anthony Clemmons. Basabe started at power forward, White moved to the small forward, Devyn Marble to off-guard and Mike Gesell took over at point.
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