With less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter, Iowa held a 58-40 lead over Penn State and looked comfortably on their way to another home victory. They had held a double digit lead since the first quarter, and their offense was shooting well over 50 percent from the field.
It was too good to last. Just as the Hawkeye offense went cold, Penn State started taking advantage of turnovers and finally got their offense going. The Nittany Lions used a 14-4 run to bring the Iowa lead under double digits by the end of the third quarter.
They kept that momentum into the 4th. Aided by a significant Iowa drought in the middle of the quarter, Penn State was able to cut Iowa’s lead down to two with just under three minutes left to play. In just over a quarter of time, Iowa’s huge lead had evaporated and it looked like they were in serious jeopardy of blowing a game they could ill afford to lose.
The Hawkeyes responded. On four straight defensive possessions, Iowa earned key stops that kept their lead at two. Then Megan Gustafson drew a foul and hit two free throws to extend the lead to four. Makenzie Meyer then got a steal and hit a free throw and the lead was five.
It was Penn State’s turn to respond. Coming out of a timeout, Teniya Page—Penn State’s leading scorer—used a nifty move to get open and buried a three with 35 seconds remaining. The Nittany Lions then chose to play defense for one last possession. If they got a stop, they’d have one last look for the tie or for the win.
Luckily for Iowa, they never got the chance. Despite getting the ball with the shot clock under five seconds, Gustafson turned and hit a shot deep in the lane with her defender all over her. The basket raised Iowa’s lead to four with under 10 seconds left, and they held on for the victory from there.
Gustafson led Iowa with 33 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 assists. That stat line is incredible, yet Gustafson is so good that it’s hardly a surprise. Fellow post Chase Coley also had a huge day, scoring 24 points on 9-11 shooting and adding 7 rebounds. They were the only Hawkeyes in double figures. Full game stats are here.
Penn State was led by Page, who had 23 points. Amari Carter added 16 points. Jaida Travascio-Green was Penn State’s last double digit scorer with 13.
Iowa’s post offense was excellent tonight. Combined, Gustafson, Coley, and Hannah Stewart had 65 points on 26 of 35 (74%) shooting. They also added 22 rebounds and 10 assists. When Iowa needed an answer offensively, more often than not they were going to the post.
The Hawkeyes also executed really well late in the game. Despite Penn State having all the momentum and a hot offense, they were able to get several crucial defensive stops late. They also hit big free throws down the stretch and got the ball to Gustafson when they needed to most.
It’s been a theme all season, but turnovers again were a big reason that Iowa didn’t blow Penn State out. In the first half, Iowa shot 69 percent from the floor. If anything, their lead should’ve been more than the 15 it was at the break. A big reason that it wasn’t was Iowa’s 10 first half turnovers that limited the shots they got up. In the second half, when Iowa’s offense wasn’t as hot, the turnovers took away key possessions and helped Penn State get their offense going. Iowa ended the game with 20 turnovers total.
Another theme for Iowa is that they don’t play well when their 3-pointers aren’t falling. Tonight is a great example. In the first half, they shot 3-8 from deep. While 3-8 isn’t spectacular, it does mean that a defense has to respect their 3-point shooting. In the second half, Iowa went 0-5 from 3. With Iowa shooting poorly in the half, and not taking a lot of long shots anyway, it became easier for Penn State to double and triple team the posts to disrupt their shots or force turnovers.
Finally, this might have been the worst game of the season for Iowa’s starting guards. Combined, Meyer, Alexis Sevillian, and Kathleen Doyle had only 13 points. They also accounted for 12 of the team’s turnovers. If Iowa hopes to do damage in the Big Ten or NCAA Tournament, their guards will have to play better than they did tonight.
Iowa returns to action Sunday, February 11th at 2 PM CT at Northwestern. The Wildcats are 9-16 overall and 2-9 in conference.