By Pat Harty
When asked after Saturday’s loss to Penn State what concerned him the most about his team, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said one word without hesitating.
McCaffery went on to say that Iowa is really good at times and not very good at times.
His team then lived up to, or down to that reputation against Indiana on Monday.
Iowa fell behind by double-digits in the first half, but then trimmed a 15-point halftime deficit to just one point in the second half before unraveling down the stretch and losing 77-64 at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.
The Hawkeyes have now lost five of their last six games and fell to 4-5 overall and 0-2 in conference play.
And the schedule doesn’t get any easier with the annual showdown against Iowa State up next on Thursday at Hilton Coliseum in Ames.
Sophomore forward Tyler Cook only played 14 minutes and was held to just nine points. He then shared his frustration on Twitter, but made no excuses.
"Frustrating. I gotta be better," Cook said.
Several factors are contributing to Iowa’s inconsistencies, not the least of which is poor guard play.
McCaffery sent a message by inserting junior Brady Ellingson and sophomore Maishe Dailey in the starting lineup for the second half and it paid immediate dividends.
Ellingson made back-to-back 3-point baskets that trimmed the lead to 43-37 and caused Indiana coach Archie Miller to call a timeout just 3 minutes into the second half.
Whatever Miller said to his players didn’t work, though, as Iowa stayed on a roll, outscoring the Hoosiers 16-2 to start the second half.
But as is so often the case with this Iowa team, it couldn’t sustain its success.
After slicing the deficit to 43-42, Iowa allowed Indiana to go on a 28-8 scoring run that put the lead out of reach.
The Hoosiers had scoring runs of 14-0 in the first half and 18-0 in the second half.
Iowa missed 12 of its last 14 shots in the first half and was outscored 24-7 during the final 8:54 of the first half.
The score was even at 20 when Indiana guard Devonte Green made 3-point basket right before the shot clock expired. His basket triggered a 14-0 scoring run that finally ended when Ellingson made a 3-point basket for Iowa.
But then Indiana responded with a three by Collin Hartman, to which Iowa answered with a three by sophomore point guard Jordan Bohannon, his only three in the first half.
The Hoosiers scored the final four points in the first half and led 41-26 at halftime.
Indiana freshman guard Al Durham made a shot right before time expired to end the first half. He was trailing on a fast-break layup attempt and then grabbed the miss and made a short bank shot with no Iowa players in sight.
Indiana also scored 14 points off 13 Iowa turnovers in the first half.
Iowa had four players who committed at least two turnovers in the first half, led by Bohannon with four.
Bohannon continued to struggle on offense and was benched to start the second half, along with sophomore shooting guard Isaiah Moss and freshman center Luka Garza.
Ellingson and freshman forward Jack Nunge were the only Iowa players to score in double figures with 16 and 12 points, respectively. Bohannon and Moss were held to seven and two points, respectively.
McCaffery tried anything to provide a spark for his struggling team, and there were times when Iowa performed well on both ends of the floor.
But the bad outweighed the good against an Indiana team that also has its share of problems.
This is the earliest Iowa has ever played conference games and Monday’s performance showed the team isn’t ready to be a Big Ten contender.
There still are 16 conference games remaining, along with six non-conference games. So there is time for Iowa to fix its problems, or to keep digging a deeper hole.