IOWA CITY, Iowa – Nicholas Baer talked this week about a need for increased toughness. He and his Iowa teammates showed it at times on Saturday but not enough to make a difference.
Penn State knocked off the Hawkeyes, 77-73, in the Big Ten opener for both teams here at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It was the Nittany Lions first victory in this venue since 2001.
Iowa (4-4 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) turned the ball over 18 times leading to 22 points for the visitors. Many of the giveaways were careless and unforced.
“There’s definitely still room to improve there,” Baer said. “There were spurts of it. But that’s the thing about toughness, you can’t play it in spurts. You have to play it all the time.”
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During the final eight minutes of the game, the Hawkeyes trimmed their deficit to three or fewer points on 10 different occasions. Each time, they could found a way to fall farther behind, be it a careless turnover, a missed field goal attempt or missed free throws.
“We show it in games that we can play really well and play against anybody but then we can fall apart very easily,” forward Cordell Pemsl said. “Once we get that mental toughness down, we’ll be OK. But right now we just have to figure out how we have to do that. It’s a question that’s up in the air right now.”
Tyler Cook led the Hawkeyes with 23 points and career-high 12 rebounds, the third double-double of his career. He also paced Iowa with five turnovers and missed two big free throws down the stretch.
“We should take a lot of the blame for what we did to not win the game,” Cook said. “Some guys, including myself, turned the ball over too much, weren’t aggressive enough offensively in terms of getting the right guys the right looks.”
Jordan Bohannon was one of those players who did not get enough looks. The sophomore sharpshooter took only six shots, making two of four from three-point range and finishing with eight points.
“They’re chasing up on him,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “We’ve got to screen more for him. Whether we’re running sets or running motion, we’ve got to free him up, no question about that. He’s got to get more shots.”
Penn State (7-2, 1-0) served notice early that it planned to end it’s long drought in Iowa City. The Lions sprinted out to an 11-2 start.
“You can’t get down 11-2 at home to start the game,” McCaffery said. “We were not aggressive enough. We were not connected together. So I think the word is consistency. We’re really good at certain things, and we’re not good at all at others.”
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The Hawkeyes don’t have a lot of time to figure things out. They turn around and play at Indiana on Monday. Maybe it’s a good thing that they are forced back into action quickly.
The players looked down following Saturday’s game. They’ve lost four of their last five and need to gain some traction as the season roles into the second month.
McCaffery, a veteran coach, believes his team will turn things around.
“I don’t think you can beat them up,” he said. “I definitely don’t think you can point fingers. You start playing the blame game and then don’t take any responsibility for yourself, that’s me, then I think you lose the locker room.
“So I love these guys. They’ll get it. It’s frustrating, but they’re good people. They have character, and we’ll get it figured out.”