Iowa's comeback kids falter in overtime, and the season is over.
Of course it would come down to a final shot, come down to overtime. Even with Iowa down 11 points multiple times in the second half, everyone in the building knew this one would get wild. Alas, Cordell Pemsl's 15-footer clanged off the front of the rim as the final horn sounded, and TCU ended Iowa's NIT run, 94-92. The Hawkeyes finish the season with a record of 19-15, their lowest season win total since 2011-2012's 18-17 squad.
Jordan Bohannon led the way with 25 points and 13 assists; both are career highs. Peter Jok added 22 points and 5 assists of his own in his swan song; he will be dearly, dearly missed in Iowa City next season. Tyler Cook went 7-for-7 from the field for 16 points (and, um, 7 turnovers); he's ready to be the focal point of next season's offense.
The game formula felt familiar; thanks to turnovers, poor interior defense and poor free-throw shooting, Iowa fell behind by as many as 11 points midway through the second half. But Iowa was able to mount a furious comeback in the late minutes, even taking a brief one-point lead before the game went to OT.
Also, this happened:
There's one aspect of that comeback that won't sit well with Hawkeye fans coming home. With under a minute left, Bohannon turned the ball over at halfcourt and Desmond Bane leaked out for a go-ahead layup. Nicholas Baer committed the foul to stop the shot, and officials deemed it a flagrant-1 (apparently he didn't get close enough to the ball??). Though Bane missed one of his free throws, the Horned Frogs still converted their ensuing possession into an easy bucket, and Iowa needed Cook to tie the game with 8 seconds left.
It's remarkable that Iowa was even in position to make that comeback, though. TCU converted 14 Iowa turnovers into 26 points and was scoring at will early in the second half. While Iowa wasn't turning the ball over much (only two in the second half), the Hawkeyes' possessions were still frustratingly empty, as they went 1-for-6 from the line in one stretch, and 7-for-16 in the second half.
But as always, there's one thing Iowa did exceedingly well this season, and that's hit threes. Led by seven bombs from Bohannon, the Hawkeyes went 16-for-30 from deep, which would be enough to win most games. Alas, Iowa turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions in OT—hard to score when you don't get shots up—and the comeback ended like Pemsl's buzzer-beating attempt: just short.
Iowa's comeback — and really its whole game — was buoyed by one of the most raucous Carver-Hawkeye crowds of the last 20 years. With the bluehairs and the down-in-front-pleases no longer monopolizing the best seats, the fans maintained an energy level far more befitting of a contender in a power conference. It's been Iowa's ugly secret for years that one of the economic engines of its athletic department — its big-money season tickets — leads to a lower-tier noise level at its arena, and it's been that way for a long time. There's no easy solution to this problem (Scott Dochterman couldn't even offer one in his recent piece) but it's pretty clearly a problem and the athletic department knows it. It's certainly not a bad idea to get the students closer to the court, though; right now they've got the worst seats in the house.
There's a lot for the players to stew on over the offseason, because that was a wholly winnable game against the best remaining team in the NIT (seeds be damned). Iowa showed yet again that it's capable of erasing big leads against quality foes, and the three-man unit of Bohannon, Cook and Nicholas Baer is going to cause problems for a lot of foes next season and beyond.
But the Hawkeyes also showed why it's such a bad idea to take such large deficits in the first place, and that's something that absolutely needs to be addressed next season. The margin of error effectively disappears at that point, and a team whose returning players struggle so mightily from the free throw line are going to need a lot of room for error.
One big area that has to improve next year; Iowa players not named Peter Jok were a combined 62.3% from the line this year— Jon Miller (@hawkeyenation) March 19, 2017
Fortunately, Fran McCaffery has a pretty good (not spotless, but pretty good) record of improving his players through their time in Iowa City, and these freshmen seem eminently coachable. How quickly and how substantially that happens has always varied player-to-player, of course, and we're not going to make any guesses on the young guys just yet.
But they're so close, right? You can just feel it. They're so close to being one of the best teams in the Big Ten, and even as a great player like Jok bids farewell to the program, the future is as bright as it's ever been in the McCaffery era, full stop. This team should be dancing next season, and for years to come.
Way to go, Peter Jok. Go JoBo. Go Baer Jordan. Go Cook. Go whole damn team. GO IOWA AWESOME.