The Iowa Hawkeyes rode a career-high 27 points from Aaron White to a 76-67 win over Penn State Thursday night at Carver Hawkeye Arena. It was a disjointed, sputtering performance from the Hawkeyes, frustrating enough to drive coach Fran McCaffery into fits of hysteria late in the second half. After Penn State had jumped to a seven-point lead in the game's first four minutes, Iowa went on a 14-0 run on a series of Nittany Lion turnovers converted into fast break points. Iowa and Penn State traded baskets for the rest of the half, and Iowa took an eight-point lead to the locker room.
Iowa again struggled early in the second half, allowing Penn State to pull within three points of the lead, but three consecutive fouls on Melsahn Basabe led to six converted free throw attempts, reestablishing Iowa's lead. The Hawkeyes built a 15-point advantage midway through the second half. A late Penn State rally cut the lead to single digits and incited the WRATH OF FRAN, but the Nittany Lions never closed within a possession of Iowa, and the Hawkeyes coasted to the victory.
Iowa changed up its starting lineup Thursday night, substituting power forward Melsahn Basabe for point guard Anthony Clemmons. Shooting guard Mike Gesell moved to the point and struggled, giving up three turnovers and going scoreless on 0/4 shooting from the field. Basabe recorded a double-double, scoring 10 points (primarily at the free throw line, where he was 8/10 on the night) and grabbing 10 rebounds. Roy Devyn Marble had 8 points and 5 assists. Clemmons contributed 8 points off the bench. McCaffery didn't tip his hand to whether the lineup change was in response to Penn State -- he did say that the bigger lineup helped against the Nittany Lions, who are a great rebounding team -- or a more permanent shift away from the dual point guard set Iowa had been using.
Aside from shooting, Iowa's statistics were actually pretty good. The Hawkeyes outrebounded Penn State 36-27 and held the Nittany Lions to just 8 offensive rebounds. While Iowa committed 13 turnovers, they forced 17 from PSU and distributed the ball well, recording 18 assists. The Hawkyes got 23 more free throw attempts than Penn State and converted 17 more foul shots. Field goal shooting remains a problem, though: Iowa shot just 40.0 percent from the field and 23.8 percent from behind the arc. Penn State, which was no better from the field, made three more shots than Iowa, a statistic that was nullified by Iowa's free throw edge.
McCaffery opened his press conference by acknowledging that Iowa's execution in its half court sets, especially late in the game while trying to run time off the shot clock, was lacking. Iowa's half-court offense has been lacking all season, though, and only now is it beginning to catch up with them. It's not the only issue facing this team, but it might be the most important if Iowa is to make an unlikely run into the NCAA Tournament this March.