Halfway through the third quarter in their game against Indiana, Iowa was up 16 points. At virtually the same time, Maryland, Iowa’s biggest competition for the Big Ten title, was down double digits at home against Minnesota. Hawkeye fans were on Cloud 9. As long as the results held, Iowa would have a one game advantage in the conference standings with only two games left to play. The Hawks would be heavy favorites to win their first conference championship in 11 years.
The results didn’t hold. Not even a little bit. Instead, two stunning comebacks left Iowa, and not Maryland, facing a one game hole in the conference standings.
Iowa’s main trouble in the last 13-14 minutes of the game came via the three pointer. Indiana, who hadn’t shot well from three for most of the game, suddenly caught fire. A three point barrage helped the Hoosiers end the third quarter on a 13-1 run, and cut Iowa’s lead down to three.
They continued to stroke it well from all over the court, briefly taking a lead in the fourth, before the Hawkeyes battled back to tie things. The rest of the fourth quarter went back and forth into the final minute.
Indiana briefly took a 4-point lead with under a minute to go, before a Megan Gustafson and-1 brought that down to one. After two Indiana free throws, Tania Davis nailed a clutch three pointer to tie things with 21 seconds to play. Undeterred, Indiana milked the final few seconds off the clock, before hitting a runner in the lane with 3.8 seconds to play. Davis’ last second three was blocked, and the Hawkeyes went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, as they suffered a crucial defeat on the road in a game they controlled only minutes before.
The Maryland Comeback
Over in Maryland, there was, perhaps, an even more epic comeback. The Terrapins were down as many as 14 in the game, and with a minute to play were still down seven. It looked as though they were about to drop a huge game on their own floor. But then they started scoring. And Minnesota didn’t answer. With 48 seconds left, the lead was down to five. At the 26-second mark, the Gopher lead was two. Twenty seconds later, there was no lead at all, as a Maryland bucket squared the game at 69. The Gophers called timeout to setup a final shot of their own.
Then, in the most Minnesota fashion ever, they absolutely blew it. Maryland stole the in-bounds pass, then went the length of the floor and hit a running layup right as time expired. There would be no upset. No crushing defeat. Instead the Terrapins survived. And a few minutes after their game went final, they got to see Iowa gift them the conference lead.
Brutal. Absolutely brutal. Iowa just came off the highest of highs in knocking off Maryland. Fans aware of both games were, perhaps, even higher as Iowa’s lead mounted and Minnesota’s stayed consistent. Then the free fall started. In both games. And now, Iowa’s shot at a conference title might well be gone.
It’d be easy to point fingers after such a terrible loss, but truth be told, a decent part of the shift in Iowa’s game is that Indiana got really hot from three. Sure, Iowa could’ve done a better job on defense. Sure, you need to make adjustments when teams get hot. But it’s really hard to game plan for a guard who has never made more than three three-pointers in a game to suddenly hit six, most of which came in a less than 10 minute span where Indiana made up their deficit.
What is more easy to criticize is Iowa’s offense. As Indiana was making their run, Iowa was helping them by taking a ton of jump shots. And as any consistent reader of these recaps knows, jump shots are, perhaps, this team’s biggest weakness.
Part of Iowa’s problem in that regard was probably their hot start. They hit six three pointers in the first quarter, which helped propel them to a 12-point first quarter lead. Then they didn’t hit another three until the game’s final 30 seconds. At times, it looked like the guards still thought they were hot, and kept jacking early threes when they should’ve looked for an easier bucket to end the run. Regardless of the reason, Iowa settling for jumpers late in the game is one of the primary reasons they didn’t secure their victory tonight.
The Remaining Games
Iowa’s next game is Monday, February 25th at 7:30 PM on the road at Nebraska. They close out the season on Sunday, March 3rd at 3 PM at home against Northwestern. Both games will be televised on BTN.
Iowa will probably be favored to beat both of their remaining opponents, but if they check out for even a couple minutes like they did tonight, they could lose either game.
Maryland, meanwhile, closes with a road trip to Purdue and a home game against Illinois. Illinois upsetting Maryland while on the road would be one of the more stunning results of the season, so we can probably write that off, meaning it’s time to become big fans of Our Most Hated Rival.
Winning at Purdue is no easy task. Iowa couldn’t pull of the feat earlier this year, in fact. That being said, Purdue has been trending down lately. Several big losses down the stretch have shifted them from Big Ten title contender to a team in the middle of the pack just fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid. Maryland is the favorite in that game, and the favorite now to win the Big Ten conference by themselves. The outcome that looked nearly impossible at times tonight has happened.