IOWA CITY — If Big Ten basketball games lasted 38 minutes, Iowa would be 10-4 and checking on airfare to an NCAA tournament site.
Instead, the NIT seems the likely destination, courtesy of multiple late-game collapses. Four different times Iowa (17-10, 6-8 Big Ten) has led entering the final two minutes of league play, only to fall apart and lose in regulation or overtime.
“We’ve got guys that are playing with a great deal of courage,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “It’s just unfortunate that we’re not able to eek out a couple closer victories. But we’ve also won some close games.”
Ten of Iowa’s 14 Big Ten games have been decided by 10 points or less, and the Hawkeyes are 3-7. But in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime of those 10 games, Iowa’s opponents have outscored the Hawkeyes 105-66.
At the free-throw line, Iowa has shot 56.6 percent (30-of-53), while its opponents have hit 82.6 percent (43-52). That’s 23 missed free throws in the final two minutes or overtime in 10 single-digit games. Ironically, Iowa shoots a league-best 72.1 percent overall from the line in Big Ten play. In the first 38 minutes of regulation, Iowa makes 76.5 percent of its free throws.
“The free-throw shooting is unfortunate,” McCaffery said. “We’ve got good free-throw shooters out there. Our free-throw shooting numbers are good. We have the right guy shooting the ball.
“If you had a really bad free-throw shooter you were going to, he gets fouled, misses a free throw, you would question it. We got the right guys shooting the ball late. I don’t think there’s anything there.”
The statistics, as expected, are worse in Iowa’s seven single-digit league losses. The Hawkeyes are 11-of-26 at the free-throw line over the final two minutes or overtime. Iowa’s opponents counter by hitting 36 of 44 free throws over the same time frame.
Likewise, the late-game numbers from the field are just as tough to accept. In the 10 single-digit games, Iowa shot 30 percent (15-of-50) in the final two minutes or overtime. Its opponents made 51.7 percent (29-of-56).
Iowa junior Devyn Marble said he’s out of answers as for why the team struggles in late-game situations.
“I don’t know, it just seems to happen,” Marble said. “I couldn’t give you a specific reason on why it happens. That’s just the way it’s been this year, unfortunately. You’ve got to keep working to get past it.”
In the seven losses, the Hawkeyes knocked down only 13 of 45 shots (28.8 percent) over the final two minutes or overtime. Their opponents were 19-of-40 (47.5 percent).
“You’ve got to find ways to get over that hump,” Marble said. “That’s something we’re still trying to figure out a way, just how to close games. I have confidence in this team we’re going to be able to do that. We can only learn and continue on with our growth.”