The 8-seeded Iowa Hawkeyes (19-14) once again found themselves at the base of a mountain which proved too high to climb in an 83-75 loss to the 9-seeded Auburn Tigers (21-12). The shooting took too long to arrive, as Iowa missed all nine of their first half attempts and when they did come, Auburn found theirs, as well.
Payton Sandfort led the game with 21 points, 17 of which came in the second half, while Johni Broome put up 19, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Despite Broome’s presence inside, Iowa finished with 36 points in the paint and were 14/20 on layups/dunks. In a story as old as this season, poor three point shooting foiled the Hawks, as they hit just 26% from deep on 27 attempts.
Despite just 26 points, it started well enough for Iowa as they started out ahead 6-4 behind after notched his fourth point just 2:17 into the game. Unfortunately, he didn’t make a basket for 23 more game minutes as he missed seven straight shots in the timespan. He finished with 15 points on 5/18 shooting.
While Iowa struggled offensively, Auburn was never able to pull away as they had similar woes from deep, going 1/9. The first half lead crested on that three by Wendell Green, Jr, at 21-12 with 8:00 remaining.
Iowa was able to get some momentum with the insertion of Dasonte Bowen - his first minute during the flow of the game since Iowa faced Illinois on February 4th - as Iowa was able to get three straight baskets by Sandfort, Patrick McCaffery, and Tony Perkins. Bowen added a layup of his own to bring it to 23-20.
Auburn kept the Hawks at bay ahead of half by taking advantage of the rare Hawkeye turnovers, as they had 7 points of 5.
The lids came off the basket for both teams almost immediately in the second half as Jaylin Williams hit a three to open the stanza and Connor McCaffery answered with one of his own as the shot clock winded down.
Broome continued his impressive play by stretching his game to the three-point line and kicked off a run of six Tiger threes in 5 game minutes. As the lead built to 17, it was clear just how pro-Auburn the fan contingent was, and many Tigers reveled in delighting them.
As we’ve seen before, Iowa didn’t roll over, though. Sandfort was especially good in Iowa’s comeback attempt and cut the lead with 10 after a couple free throws after getting fouled on a three-point attempt. Murray also got it going from range as he hit a pair and then brought Iowa to within 4 on a fastbreak dunk.
Down 66-62 at the under-4:00, it was a chance to come away with the win but the game quickly turned into an assembly line at the charity stripe for Wendell Green who’s currently building a school-record free throw streak. His back-breaking layup with 2:15 felt like the dagger when he put Auburn up 74-64.
Sandfort once again answered with a jumper after Filip Rebrača hit a pair of free throws to cut it to six, and then again after the lead was stretch to 10 with a three-pointer.
Unfortunately, the comeback attempt ended there as Iowa couldn’t string any more “score-stops” together.
The game was more or less punctuated with Connor fouling out and making the tear-filled walk to Iowa’s bench. The Hawks will miss his presence on the court.
As for the season writ large, I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts in the coming days but this was a team who had an incredibly tantalizing ceiling but was able to only reach it once or twice. They provided some genuinely enjoyable moments in a season following the massive losses of Iowa’s first first rounder in 20+ years and Iowa’s record-breaking sharpshooter. But the floor fell out on them plenty of times as well.
So if I were to encapsulate this team, it’s probably the one we saw today. They possess plenty of skill to close the talent gap which existed today but too often were holding the bag when the shots didn’t drop.
It never felt like they quit despite plenty of opportunities to do so today and throughout this season. That might be what I remember most about them.