Fran McCaffery's No. 16-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes entered Saturday afternoon's contest against Penn State with the fourth-best 3-point shooting percentage in the Big Ten this season.
Against Penn State's league-worst 3-point defense, the Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions both lived up to their average, Iowa nailing 5 of 10 from beyond the arc in the second half to earn an 82-70 win in front of 10,428 fans at the Bryce Jordan Center.
"That's an elite level team if they're making threes, because they beat you up inside, they have length all over the place, they're strong, they're physical," Pat Chambers said, noting Iowa guard Mike Gesell's 4 for 5 3-point shooting performance. "Tthat becomes a very difficult team to play when they're hitting their threes.
Conversely, the Nittany Lions (13-13 overall, 4-9 Big Ten) simply could not find their long-distance strokes in front of the home crowd.
Leading the Hawkeyes 33-31 at halftime, hitting just 1 of 6 shots from beyond the arc in the first half, the Nittany Lions kept pace to a 44-44 tie at the 12:56 mark while quickly reaching the bonus. Though a 9-3 foul deficit existed, within a span of just 1 minute, 4 seconds, the Nittany Lions were whistled four times to put the Hawkeyes (19-6, 8-4) in the bonus.
Paired with an offensive dry spell that saw the Nittany Lions score just 4 points in the next 6 minutes, 22 seconds, what had been a tight contest turned into a double-digit deficit for Penn State.
"We have to make threes. There's no secret about that," Chambers said. "We need to make at least seven threes and I'm not even going to count the two at the end. We were 1 for 14 when it really counted. I'm just surprised how we're shooting the ball at home. I'm really surprised. I really can't quite put my finger on it, because we should be shooting the ball much better. We had some open looks and they didn't go down."
McCaffery seemed to be equally surprised about the Nittany Lions' poor shooting from beyond the arc following the game.
Though the Hawkeyes entered the game limiting Big Ten opponents to a 32.6 clip from 3-point land, the Iowa fourth-year head coach acknowledged the difference each team's 3-point shooting made on the game's outcome.
"It just changes the whole complexion of the game. There's no question about it," McCaffery said. "There was a good portion of the game where they were going with a smaller lineup, switching screens, so you have to wait longer into the possession to find somebody who is open and I thought we did a good job of spacing and moving the ball, because they were working really hard, which they always do. We stepped up and made them when we had some open looks.
"I was surprised. I've been really impressed with Brandon Taylor, watching him on film. Compared to what he was last year to what he's doing now, I think he's a guy that would concern everybody, and he just couldn't make one today."
With the Hawkeyes in the double-bonus, Penn State's three-quarter court pressure helped cut their lead down to 60-55 near the 4 minute mark in the second half, but a Taylor missed 3 was followed in quick succession by a Gesell bomb in the corner to effectively end Penn State's hope of a comeback at the 3:02 mark, 65-55.
Refusing to blame the officiating, Chambers said afterward that his NIttany Lions are both "mentally and physically tired" following a loss to Illinois last Sunday and their thrilling late-game comeback for a win at Indiana on Wednesday night. Against a quality opponent of Iowa's level offensively and defensively, the end result was a setback, despite Penn State's 40-point effort in the paint.
"Here's the problem, if you're not making threes, we're very easy to guard. We only had one scorer today, and we've been talking about three scorers. We only had one," Chambers said, noting D.J. Newbill's team-high 22 points on 10 of 15 shooting. "I'm not counting the last two minutes. I'm not counting any of those points, so in reality, you had one guy get 22 and everybody else was in single digits.
"If you can't make outside jump shots, it's going to be very difficult to win in the Big Ten. It's that simple. It's not science, but it's very simple. You gotta make shots."
The Nittany Lions return to action Thursday at Nebraska. Tip is at 7 p.m. and the game airs on ESPNU.