Iowa almost upset #2 seed Tennessee and advanced to their first Sweet 16 since 1999 on Sunday. Iowa nearly completed what would have been the greatest comeback in the history of the NCAA Tournament, but they ran out of steam (and encountered too much Grant Williams, the two-time SEC Player of the Year) in overtime. Iowa trailed by 25 in the first half and by 21 at halftime (49-28), but roared back to tie the game and send it into overtime after Tennessee missed a potential game-winner. The Vols outscored Iowa 12-6 in overtime to end Iowa's comeback bid (and season).
This was not the recap I expected to write at halftime. Not when Iowa was down 49-28 and Tennessee was treating them like a speed bag for the opening 20 minutes. Tennessee did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it on offense and converted bucket after bucket. They harassed Iowa on defense, forcing bad shots and creating turnovers that led to easy points in transition for them. The last two games Iowa had played in the second round of the NCAA Tournament (both against #2 seeds, coincidentally) had ended in 19-point drubbings. Iowa was going to need to have a second half surge just to get this game to a potential 19-point margin of defeat.
Iowa did have a second half surge -- and what a second half surge it was. Iowa outscored Tennessee 43-22 in the second half, powered by a pair of 12-2 runs the first 10 minutes of the second half to chop Tennessee's lead down and turn it into a hugely competitive game for final 10 minutes. Tyler Cook came out of halftime energized and kickstarted Iowa's comeback; nine of his 11 second half points came in the early going of the half and were to Iowa's rally. His final stat line -- 11 points on 4/12 shooting, 2 rebounds, 2 assists -- was fairly modest, but he had a big impact in the second half.
But Iowa's comeback was truly a team effort and featured major contributions from all five starters. Every Hawkeye in the starting lineup finished in double figures, led by Jordan Bohannon's 18 points. Bohannon was 5/11 overall and 3/7 from 3-point range, becoming Iowa's career leader in three-pointers. Reminder: he's a junior. He is going to put that record so far out of sight by the time he's done. He also made all five free throws -- including three critical ones on a foul late in the game that enabled Iowa to tie the game at 67-all. He also had six rebounds, second-best on the team. Joe Wieskamp couldn't buy a shot from the field (1/7 overall, 1/5 from 3-point range), but he went 8/8 at the free throw line, including making two pressure-packed attempts to tie the game with 20 seconds remaining in regulation. He also had a team-high seven rebounds, two assists, and a steal.
Isaiah Moss was second on the team with 16 points on 6/12 shooting, including 3/5 from deep. He also had five rebounds and two steals, which led to some key transition opportunities for Iowa. And some of the shots he hit were absolutely enormous buckets, too, like the three with time expiring on the shot clock to draw Iowa with one:
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 24, 2019
And Iowa's final starter, Luka Garza, also had a good game, scoring 13 points thanks to some nifty work near the basket (4/8 shooting) and at the free throw line (5/6), grabbing four rebounds, and providing some solid interior defense in the second half to help slow down Tennessee's orange-and-white buzzsaw of an offensive attack. Though the biggest Garza-related contribution to the game came from his father:
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 24, 2019
LET THE PEACOCK FLY
And props to Nicholas Baer in his final game as a Hawkeye as well. Baer's presence seemed to be a calming influence in the second half and while his stats were not huge (4 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block), he did his usual job of hustling after loose balls, boxing out well, and playing solid defense. His presence will very much be missed when Iowa basketball takes the floor next season.
Going into this game, I thought the path to an Iowa victory would come via a torrent of 3-pointers or living at the free throw line. Iowa ended up just 7/21 from 3-point range, but four of those made threes actually came in the otherwise disastrous first half (think how much worse that half could have been without those threes!), as Iowa went 4/10 from behind the arc. They were just 3/11 in the second half and overtime. Free throw shooting was a big part of Iowa's turnaround; they were 6/11 before halftime and 18/21 in the second half and overtime. They forced Admiral Schofield, one of the Vols' best players, to the bench for much of the second half and overtime with foul trouble and took advantage of their opportunities at the free throw line to cut into Tennessee's lead. It wasn't quite enough in the end to get over the hump (that 25-point deficit was just a bit too much to fully overcome), but they gave themselves a chance.
And, really, that's probably what this game will be remembered for: Iowa gave themselves a chance. They looked out of their depth in the first half and it seemed like they were headed to yet another curbstomping in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and an ignominious end to the season. We've seen that script before and it sucks.
They wrote a new script today. This time in the second half they staged one of the greatest rallies we've ever seen from an Iowa basketball team. And they did it against one of the best teams in college basketball this season. That's something very much worthy of respect. Iowa's comeback ran out of magic in overtime, but that doesn't make it a failure. We won't soon forget this second half and after some of the lows we've seen over the last six weeks, plus Iowa's struggles in similar NCAA Tournament games in the past, we'll take it. Go Hawks.