Nebraska, having spent most of the 2020-21 men's basketball season cosplaying as a speed bump for Big Ten opposition, got a bit friskier over the last few weeks. They entered Thursday's game against Iowa on the heels of back-to-back wins over Minnesota and Rutgers. Could they rise up and bite a potentially sleepwalking Iowa team and hand the Hawkeyes their worst loss of the season?
No, they could not.
The difference between Iowa and Minnesota/Rutgers? Minnesota and Rutgers are freefalling programs right now; the Gophers have lost six straight (all but one by double digits) and Rutgers has lost four of six after getting housed by 20 by the Huskers on Monday night. Meanwhile, Iowa is revving up. The Hawkeyes entered tonight's game winners of five of their last six, fresh off a 16-point win over #4 Ohio State in Columbus. Four of those five wins came by at least 13 points. Iowa added another double-digit victory to their tally on Thursday, dismembering the Huskers for the better part of 40 minutes on their way to a 102-64 victory.
That 38-point margin of victory? The biggest-ever for Iowa in a Big Ten game under Fran McCaffery. On the flip side, that 38-point margin of defeat for Nebraska?
FINAL— Sam McKewon (@swmckewonOWH) March 5, 2021
The worst loss of coach Fred Hoiberg's college coaching career.
Mayen 14/13, Webster 17. 20 TOs. Where's the Pepcid?
"The worst loss of coach Fred Hoiberg's college coaching career." Ouch.
We have been #blessed with the ability to watch a stunning number of Hawkeye blowouts this year -- this was Iowa's 13th win of at least 15+ points, their ninth such wipeout in Big Ten play -- but this was one of the biggest of the bunch. In fact, the only teams to lose to Iowa by more than 38 this year were Western Illinois (lost by 41) and Northern Illinois (lost by 53). Even Iowa State only lost by 28, and they're still looking for their first win in 2021.
The only time this game was close was at the start, when neither team could make a shot -- they combined to miss their first eight attempts, plus a pair of missed free throws from Joe Wieskamp. Luka Garza got Iowa on the board with an and-1 and Kobe Webster tied the game at 3-3 with Nebraska's first basket of the game. C.J. Fredrick answered with a 3 of his own to put Iowa up 6-3 and from there it was off to the races. Iowa led 23-10 halfway through the first half and had the game on cruise control. A 7-0 Nebraska run provided the only intrigue of the night; that cut the Iowa lead to 32-23 with six minutes to go in the first half. Were the Huskers going to make things interesting after all?
No. Connor McCaffery lit them up for a 3 13 seconds later, part of an 11-0 Iowa run over the next two minutes that pushed Iowa to a 20-point lead. There was no intrigue. There was only a question of how lopsided things might get. Iowa led 48-26 at halftime and pushed that lead out to 55-29 early in the second half. The Hawkeyes never led by less than 21 in the second half and spent most of the half leading by around 30 points or more. It was such a rout that Iowa subbed out Wieskamp and Garza with over 13 minutes to play and Jordan Bohannon with 11:35 to play and let the reserves run wild the rest of the way. It was such a rout we got three minutes of Austin Ash time, baby!
It was such a rout that Luka Garza scored zero points in the second half and Iowa still won by 38 points. Garza had a solid game overall, if quiet by his usual spectacular standards: 14 points (5/8 shooting, 1/3 from 3-point range), plus 8 rebounds, 4 blocks (!), and an assist. Iowa just didn't need Garza to be Garzilla tonight. Wieskamp, so reliable as Garza's sidekick this season, also had a quiet night, with just 11 points (4/9 shooting, 2/6 from 3-point range, and a puzzlingly bad 1/4 outing at the free throw line), 7 rebounds, and 2 assists. But that was all fine because Jordan Bohannon decided to go thermonuclear in the second-to-last game of his career at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Bohannon led all scorers with 26 points on 8/13 shooting -- 8/12 from deep. And by "deep," we mean deep:
The eight made 3s tied Bohannon's career record and left him just one shy of tying the Iowa men's basketball single-game record of nine made 3s, a feat accomplished twice by -- who else? -- Chris Kingsbury. Not gonna lie: I was very much rooting for Bohannon to at least tie Kingsbury's record with another 3 (Bohannon might as well own or share every 3-point record at Iowa after the career he's had), even if there was no good reason to leave him in the game when Iowa was up 30 for much of the second half. Alas. Even at "just" eight made triples, it was still a memorably dominant display from one of the greatest gunners in Hawkeye hoops history.
Bohannon wasn't the only Hawkeye torching the nets from deep, though. As a team, Iowa made 16 threes in the game, tying the single-game program record. They attempted a whopping 43 triples, setting a new single-game program record. Every Iowa starter made at least one three-pointer in the game. Iowa's biggest marksman off the bench? Patrick McCaffery, who shot 3/6 from long range as part of a blistering 19-point showing on 8/13 shooting. 19 points was a new career high for Pat, breaking his previous career-best of 16, set against North Carolina Central in Iowa's season opener. McCaffery was dazzling from deep and added some nice buckets on drives to the hoops and a few dunks as well, showing off a nicely diverse offensive skill set. Much of his scoring came against a thoroughly checked-out Nebraska team, sure, but there's a lot to like about the scoring chops Pat flashed in this game.
Iowa also got another nice outing off the bench from their sixth man supreme, Keegan Murray, who chipped in 8 points (3/7 shooting), 4 rebounds, an assist, two blocks, and a steal. In all, Iowa got 45 points (!) off the bench; every player who got on the court scored at least one point, except for Tony Perkins, though he did have three assists. Even big Josh Ogundele was throwing down some ferocious dunks in this one:
ABSOLUTE UNIT DUNK pic.twitter.com/RvOcNYlok8— Go Iowa Awesome (@IowaAwesome) March 5, 2021
Iowa had 25 assists as a team on 38 made field goals, one of many stats that showed off their dominance tonight and a testament to the good ball movement displayed by their offense throughout the game. That was just one of many lopsided stats in Iowa's favor here. Second chance points? 14-2 in favor of Iowa. Fast break points? 19-0 in favor of Iowa. Points in the paint? 40-18 for the good guys. Iowa also had just eight turnovers in the game, compared to 20 (!) for Nebraska, which led to 25 Iowa points.
About those turnovers... plenty of them should get chalked up to the ball security -- or lack thereof -- shown by Nebraska throughout this game. They were absurdly lazy with their ball-handling and sloppy with their passes. Iowa had 13 steals and more than a few a of those were the result of Nebraska players flat-out giving the ball away. But as woeful as Nebraska was, Iowa's defense definitely deserves credit, too. They forced some of those turnovers, too. They pressured Nebraska into bad shots and kept them off the offensive glass for most of the game. Iowa's won six of their last seven games -- and they've held their opponent under 70 points in all six of those wins. They held Nebraska to 0.79 points per possession, days after holding Ohio State to 0.86 points per possession in their win over the Buckeyes. There's no question that Iowa's playing their best defense of the year -- by far -- right now and they couldn't have picked a better time to do it.
The only negative for Iowa in this game was C.J. Fredrick appearing to suffer a right leg injury in the first half. He got tangled up with a Nebraska player, went down hard, and came up limping. He exited the game immediately and didn't return, though he was near the bench for the remainder of the game. Fran McCaffery provided a brief update on his status after the game:
Fran McCaffery says that CJ Fredrick is "a little bit sore, we'll see how he is tomorrow."— David Eickholt (@DavidEickholt) March 5, 2021
Hopefully his injury is nothing too serious and he can return to action soon.
This was a bad Nebraska team. A really, really, really bad Nebraska team. They also looked like a team playing their fourth game in the last eight days (and their eight game in the last 17 days), especially in the second half. Iowa was expected to throttle them and that's exactly what they did. But we've seen good Iowa teams mess around with bad teams and find themselves in trouble often -- even in this current strong run of six wins in seven games, they had a very narrow escape over Penn State. So it was immensely satisfying to see them treat a bad team like a bad team and just dumptruck them for 40 minutes straight. The fact that that it was Nebraska on the receiving end of said dumptrucking? Even better.