It's a road win. By double digits. In the Big Ten, full of blood and spiders. We'll take it.
For the first two-thirds of the game, Penn State played itself up to Iowa's level—or perhaps, Iowa down to Penn State's. Either way, with 13 minutes left, PSU led Iowa 44-42. Not bleak, but certainly uncomfortable. Fortunately, there's 40 minutes in regulation, and Iowa put together a 16-4 run to take control of the game. The Nittany Lions never got closer than five points (and never closer than 7 with the ball) the rest of the way, and the Hawkeyes came away with an 82-70 victory at the Bryce Jordan Center.
It would have been easy—and foolish—to assume Iowa would run away with this game like last weekend's slaughter of Michigan. Penn State's almost really good. The Nittany Lions have wins over St. John's, Ohio State and Indiana and six losses by five points or fewer. Much in the same way that Iowa is achingly close to having a 1-seed's resume, PSU is achingly close to having an NCAA tournament resume.
Even so, Iowa was a projected 9-point victor on KenPom. Final scores often vary significantly from the KenPom projections, of course, but they're a decent guideline for whether a team played up or down from expectations, and for as average as the Hawkeyes looked for the majority of the game, a strong finish (especially from the stripe, usually a problem point for Iowa) helped Iowa outperform projections. Forty minutes in a game, and they all matter, man.
We've seen enough Iowa basketball to know that it's sweating time when the Hawkeyes are at the free throw line, especially on 1-and-1s and especially with a lead to protect, but after a lousy start Iowa went 26-30 from the line in the second half, effectively shutting the door on any rally hopes the Nittany Lions harbored. It's only one game, but if that kind of free throw shooting becomes the norm for Iowa down the stretch, the March prospects look significantly better.
Iowa's big men were too much for Penn State to handle, and they were the difference-makers in a game where Roy Devyn Marble was uncharacteristically cold from the field (2-9 FG, 1-6 3-point). Melsahn Basabe was a maniac in the first half with 12 points, and his final line was a team-high 16 points, eight boards, four blocks and only two turnovers. Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff each added seven rebounds, and the Hawkeyes swatted 10 PSU shots as a team. The centers didn't command much offense (though it was nice to see Adam Woodbury continue to confound the stereotype by going 7-8 at the line), and they didn't change Pat Chambers' game plan of getting to the rim (40 points there, per the PSU SID), but they altered enough shots that trying to control the paint was not a winning strategy for the Nittany Lions.
The vibe of the game probably would have been a lot different had Mike Gesell put in even a pedestrian (to say nothing of outright bad) performance from the arc, but instead Gesell was masterful, going 4-5 from downtown and pacing the Hawkeye offense when it needed a jolt time and time again. There are so many facets of Gesell's game that he excels at, and while he still needs work on putting them all together, he's so valuable at giving Iowa what it needs on any given night. He won't be an All-Big Ten point guard with the Great White Hope over there in Columbus, but he should be on a short list come next November.
All in all, not a perfect game by any stretch, but a 12-point win on the road in the Big Ten. Take it. Get prepped for Indiana on Tuesday. On and on.