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Too tall a hill: #1 Purdue 87, Iowa 73

Braden Smith had a career night as the Hawks’ slow start proved too much to overcome

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes (16-9, 7-6) said, “Zach Edey isn’t going to beat us tonight” and the smallest man on the court, Braden Smith, built a hill to high for the Hawkeyes to climb in a 87-73 win for the #1 Purdue Boilermakers (23-2, 12-2).

The Hawks struggled to get anything going in the first half as Edey’s size around the rim kept them tentative and shots which fell on Saturday against Illinois didn’t carry over to tonight. The Hawks started 0/4 from midrange as Purdue built a 19-4 lead behind Smith & company.

The freshman guard had 10 first half points on just 3/4 shooting while forwards Mason Gillis & Caleb Furst combined for 15 with 3 threes on 5 attempts.

Iowa simply couldn’t string any scoring possessions together as they drew just a single Purdue foul (Iowa had four) and seemed to struggle with sightlines throughout the game. I counted five airballs, including three from Connor McCaffery across all 40 minutes.

When the Hawks found the paint, though, they had success. It just wasn’t that much. They were 6/6 on layups or dunks in the first half but 4 of 28 otherwise, including 1/10 from three as Purdue entered the break up 38-21.

Iowa found a groove in the second half as they made a boatload of shots which allowed them to set their press and speed Purdue. Both teams traded punches in the first seven minutes of the stanza as Iowa nearly doubled their score in that timespan but Purdue was able to still keep Iowa at bay at 57-39.

The press eventually caught up to Purdue as they had 12 second half turnovers. Iowa made 16 of their first 20 shots as Kris Murray and his 18 points helped cut the deficit to six with 5:39 remaining.

Unfortunately, the Boilers were able to free up Edey for two straight baskets with Smith & Furst adding layups of their own for Purdue get it back to 14.

Ultimately, Iowa wasn’t dialed in as much as they needed to be in Mackey Arena, a place where Fran McCaffery has won just once in his tenure. The Hawks, to their credit, never kept their foot off the gas and did well to give themselves a chance at the W down the stretch.

Purdue is the #1 team for a reason and withstanding opponents’ best shot is a big reason why. Edey was held to 14 points on just seven attempts but his rebounding and gravity allowed Purdue to rebound nearly half their missed shots.

But a 52-point half gave Iowa a chance and Iowa getting some chippiness from Patrick McCaffery (9 points and 5 steals!) was a welcome sight.

Next up: Sunday at Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-15, 1-11)