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ILLINOIS 70, IOWA 66: ORANGE CRUSHED

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How do you teach clutch?

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

All of Iowa’s struggles this season seemed to culminate in one game. Turnovers. Poor shooting. A lack of clutch at the line. Mind-boggling defense.

Even though Iowa played close games against tourney-bound teams like Minnesota and Maryland, this one to me hurts the most.

Both teams came out outstandingly flat in the first half despite both enjoying a week of rest and practice. The score was 29-25 Iowa at half despite the Hawkeyes shooting 50 percent from the field. Iowa committed 11 turnovers in the first frame, so it basically the reverse from the Michigan State game a week ago.

It truly was a tale of two halves in one gross basketball game. Illinois heated up—shooting 55 percent in the second half—while Iowa couldn’t adjust or buy a shot or make a clutch free throw when it mattered (in fairness the Hawkeyes went 17-22 from the line but every one matters).

The player of the game goes to Malcolm Hill, who dropped 21 points while shooting 8-16 from the field. He also had 8 boards and 4 assists. It felt like a time where Peter Jok, Iowa’s own superstar of sorts, was going to go shot-for-shot with one of the biggest scoring threats in the conference, but time and again Jok felt short, which is weird to say about a guy who recorded a double-double (16 points, 10 boards). His 5 turnovers— each one seemingly coming at a critical juncture—didn’t help I suppose.

Tyler Cook had a relatively quiet 14 points for Iowa, but he seemed to be a constant liability on the defensive end. He let Illinois’ Maverick Morgan get the best of him under the rim at all times, and recorded 4 fouls in just 24 minutes. There’s no reason why Cook should only be pulling down 3 boards against a team like this.

Iowa did a better job of guarding Michael Finke this time around, but there were so many times he was left open it made me wonder if they even watched film of the last time we played Illinois. He had 12 points, and each of them hurt.

Make no mistake, Iowa had every chance to win this one. The Hawkeyes led for 26 minutes total, and held a 4-point lead with 5 minutes to go. Then Illinois went on a 6-0 run, and that was basically that. Judging from the broadcast it felt like the best-attended Iowa game of the year, but I could feel the life sucked out of Carver from my couch.

Jordan Bohannon had multiple opportunities to tie it up late—he missed back to back free throws while Iowa was down 62-61 with 2 minutes left, then even after that he had this chance:

We can talk about this team’s youth until we are blue in the face (we already have) but this really does feel like a loss chalked up to inexperience. I write that with some trepidation, though. Historically, painstakingly, Iowa’s teams under Fran McCaffery have lacked the clutch gene. His rosters have been filled with remarkable talent, but for whatever reason, have never been able to consistently come down with the close, big, hallmark win.

I don’t want to get into Tom Crean Excuse Territory here, but you do have to give him credit for calling the right plays at the right times:

I don’t know how you teach clutch or winning, but luckily these kids are young, because the one thing they do have is time to learn.