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Iowa loses a game they couldn't afford to lose. Welp.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa's slender NCAA Tournament hopes took a big blow Wednesday night when they went into Happy Valley and left with a most unhappy result, losing 81-68 in a game that the Hawkeyes really, really, really couldn't afford to lose.  The loss drops Iowa to 17-12 overall, 7-10 in Big Ten play.  Two of those 10 losses have come at the hands of Penn State (who has six Big Ten wins total).  Iowa's NCAA fate is not looking very good right now -- they better play out of their minds in Indianapolis at the Big Ten Tournament next weekend.

Iowa got off to a dreadful start in this game and was never able to fully recover.  They trailed 22-13 after the first quarter and 41-23 at halftime. Penn State eventually extended that lead to 25 points in the third quarter and, well, a 25-point lead is really, really, really hard to overcome (/obvious comment alert). Iowa did manage to hack 18 points off of the lead, but they were never able to get closer than 7 points in the fourth quarter.

Bad shooting plagued Iowa in the first half -- they made just 40% of their field goals (10/25), including a particularly miserable 18.2% from long range (2/11).  Their shooting was much-improved in the second half (18/28 from the floor, including 5/11 from three-point range), but that was not enough to dig themselves out of that early hope, especially with Penn State also shooting well (14/29 from the floor, 2/3 from three-point range, and 10/11 from the free throw line).  Turnovers killed Iowa (again) -- 13 in the first half and 22 for the game.  Iowa actually managed to limit the damage from those turnovers fairly well -- PSU managed just 24 points off those 22 turnovers, which isn't terribly efficient -- but bad shooting and frequent turnovers led to a whole lot of empty possessions for Iowa, which is too hard to overcome.  Hopefully Iowa's propensity to turn the ball over, which has been a recurrent problem all season, is a function of the considerable youth on this team and it will improve in the next few years as they gain more experience.

Ally Disterhoft led the way for Iowa with 21 points on 8/13 shooting (3/5 from deep), while also contributing 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks.  Megan Gustafson continued her breakout freshman season with another double-double (15 points on 7/9 shooting, 11 rebounds), her sixth of the season, and Alex Kastanek gave Iowa an unexpected boost off the bench, scoring 10 points on 4/8 shooting and also dishing 5 assists.  Whitney Jennings had 6 assists and 6 rebounds, although she again struggled to shoot the ball (7 points on 2/9 shooting, 2/7 from deep). Tania Davis, Iowa's other standout freshman, had a rough game, too, putting up 6 points on 3/6 shooting and turning the ball over six times (against just three assists).

After the Indiana win on Sunday, I said Iowa needed to win their remaining regular season games (at Penn State, home against Illinois) and likely win at least one game in the Big Ten Tournament to put themselves into NCAA Tournament consideration. Well, that plan is out the window now.  Iowa still has Senior Night against Illinois on Saturday, but that game is more about pride than NCAA Tournament aspirations now.  Their NCAA Tournament aspirations now are Big Ten Tournament or bust.  That said, the Illinois game is still meaningful in terms of Big Ten Tournament seeding.  Iowa is currently slated for the #10 seed, which would keep them out of playing on Wednesday (and also help them avoid having to win five games in five days to win the tournament; winning four games in four days will be plenty hard enough, thank you), but if they lose to Illinois and Penn State wins their final game (at Indiana), the Nittany Lions could jump Iowa and put the Hawkeyes in one of the bottom four seeds in the Big Ten Tournament.  Don't let that happen, Iowa. Beat Illinois.