It wasn't pretty, but it didn't have to be. Iowa hit its shots down the stretch, Nebraska didn't, and the Hawkeyes closed out a well-earned 70-59 victory over the Cornhuskers on a frosty night in Iowa City.
Nebraska kept the game close through most of the second half, even briefly taking a 51-50 lead for the first time since the opening minutes, but the Huskers went cold shortly thereafter, missing their last 10 shots from the field after hitting at a near-60% clip for most of the game.
Iowa, conversely, didn't get a whole lot done from the field throughout the game (the Hawkeyes' 17-for-44 mark at the end of the game was a bit of an uptick), but Aaron White and Gabriel Olaseni directed a conga line to the free throw line, and short-handed Nebraska eventually ran out of bodies, as both David Rivers and Terran Petteway fouled out and three more Huskers committed three fouls. All in all, Iowa was 31-for-38 from the line, including a solid 24-for-28 from White and Olaseni, and with that reliable source of points all game long the Hawkeyes were never too cold to lose control of the contest.
It was remarkably heartening to see Iowa on the precipice of losing the game a couple of times—first, a familiar swoon to start the second half and then when Nebraska took the lead—and instead of turtling, immediately fight back with some quick buckets off confident, quality shots. Every team goes cold at some point, virtually every game. It happens. That ability to reassert confidence and control is what separates the mentally strong teams from the ones that play themselves out of contention, and if Iowa's back on track when it comes to closing out leads, this is a team with a significantly different trajectory.
Hats off to Olaseni and his career-high 18 points. He was lethal in the post and Nebraska didn't know what to do with him. Why Woodbury saw so many second-half minutes is kind of a mystery (he nearly let the Huskers back within three on a soft foul on a driving Shavon Shields with under three minutes left), but it would also be insane to play Olaseni 30+ minutes without necessity, so I guess the griping can only go so far.
You wouldn't think "ISO ISO ISO ISO ISO" is a winning formula, especially at the college level, but Nebraska was strangely efficient with that approach until the late cold snap; all told, the Huskers logged just five assists on 22 made baskets, and it was working until, well, it didn't. Credit Iowa's defense for rising tall when it mattered, and credit regression to the mean for stepping in when Nebraska was, at one point, 19-for-26 from inside the arc. THAT'S NOT NATURAL. THAT'S NOT WHAT GOD WANTS. MISS THOSE SHOTS.
In the closing minutes as it became clear that Iowa would take this victory, BTN announcer Dave Revsine pointed out that this was Iowa's first 2-0 start in the Big Ten in 12 years, which seems incredible. But we looked and... he's right. Iowa started 3-0 that year (only to lose nine of their next 12, but SHHHHHHH), and to find the last 4-0 start you'll have to go back to 1998-99—which happens to be the last time Iowa made the Sweet 16, under good old Dr. Tom.
But anyway, this victory was good enough. Iowa was supposed to beat Nebraska by 10.5 if you ask Vegas, 9 if you ask KenPom, and at the end of the day it was an 11-point win. All is well, all is as it should be. Hope you all stayed safe and warm tonight.