On a night when Purdue legend Rick Mount made a much-anticipated comeback to Mackey Arena, the Iowa men’s basketball ruined the occasion with its own comeback.
The Hawkeyes erased a 19-point deficit late in the first half to defeat 14th-ranked Purdue 70-63 on Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind. It was the third largest comeback in Iowa history.
The Hawkeyes trailed by 17 points at halftime, but then outscored Purdue 50-26 in the second half.
“I thought in the first half we got off to a pretty good start, but we didn’t play with the toughness both mentally and physically that you need in this building,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said on the Big Ten Network after the game. “But the bottom line was we had 20 minutes left and they certainly did in the second half.
Senior forward Jarrod Uthoff led Iowa in scoring with 25 points, including making 10-of-14 free throws. He then praised his team afterwards for showing courage in one of the Big Ten’s most hostile environments.
Iowa hadn’t won’t at Mackey Arena since 2006, a streak of seven consecutive losses until Saturday’s incredible comeback.
The victory came on the same day Mount, a former Purdue all-America guard in the early 1960s, was honored during a halftime ceremony. The mood was upbeat during halftime with Purdue leading by double-digits.
But the mood changed when the Hawkeyes seized the momentum in the second half.
“We played with (guts), that’s all I have to say,” Uthoff said on the Learfield post-game radio show.
Iowa improved to 11-3 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten. Saturday’s victory came just four days after Iowa defeated top-ranked Michigan State 83-70 in the Big Ten opener this past Tuesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
For Hawkeye fans, the comeback victory helped ease the pain from the Rose Bowl where Stanford whipped the Iowa football team 45-16 on Friday.
Uthoff stressed to his teammates at halftime that the game was far from over. His message appears to have resonated with them.
“I just told everyone we’re not out of it,” Uthoff said. “It’s nothing that we can’t come back from. We’re down 17 and we haven’t shot the ball well. We only have 20 points at halftime.
“When you look at it, we were still in position to come back in this game. All we had to do is lock it up on defense. And that’s exactly what we did.”
Iowa used a trapping zone defense to rattle the Boilermakers in the second half, forcing 10 turnovers in the final 20 minutes.
“They got a little tentative,” McCaffery said of Purdue in the second half. “They were trying to protect the lead, so you’re a little bit tentative. But were more aggressive.
“In the first half, they handled it. But in the second half, we went after the dribbler. We denied the next pass. We forced them to use all their timeouts. They didn’t have any timeouts for the last 14 minuts, which is always big.”
Purdue burned Iowa from the perimeter in the first half by draining seven 3-point baskets. The Boilermakers only made 1-of-11 threes in the second half and only had a 38-37 rebounding edge overall despite having two seven-footers in the rotation.
Iowa received another spark off the bench from super-sub Nicholas Baer, who scored seven points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked two shots in 16 minutes. Sophomore forward Dom Uhl also played well off the bench, scoring six points in 15 minutes.
“We did a lot of things, number one, we got much better bench play,” McCaffery said. “Dom Uhl and Nicholas Baer in particular were spectacular.”
Senior guard Anthony Clemmons also played a key role in the second-half comeback. He scored eight points, had four steals and three rebounds before leaving the game in the second half with what McCaffery described as a hip pointer.
Junior guard Peter Jok helped by scoring 11 points.
Iowa’s defense was effective on the interior throughout the game, holding Purdue’s twin powers of A.J. Hammons and Issac Haas to 11 and six points, respectively.
"Our defense was good guarding the post, but it was not good at closing out on the 3-point shooters, they made seven threes," McCaffery said of his team’s defense in the first half. "You give up seven threes in the first half, you’re going to be behind.
"So we did a much better job in the second half. They made one (three). We still did a pretty decent job of controlling the paint. But the half-court trap really created some offense."
Iowa shot 64 percent from the field in the second half, thanks to some easy baskets following turnovers.
"When you shoot 64 percent in the second half, you’re getting some easy baskets," McCaffery said.
As for Clemmons’ health status, McCaffery said he was hurting.
"He’ll be day-to-day," McCaffery said.
Iowa will ride this momentum into Tuesday’s game against Nebraska at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"Hopefully, the Hawkeye faithful will do what they always do and give us some big-time support," McCaffery said.