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Penn State halts Iowa comeback, wins 69-64

BY BEN SCHUFF | FEBRUARY 17, 2012 6:30 AM

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Statistics say Penn State's Jonathan Graham will make somewhere between three and four free throws out of every 10 attempts.

Two of those made free throws came in the waning moments of Thursday night's contest, allowing the Nittany Lions (12-15, 4-10 Big Ten) to withstand a frantic Iowa (13-13, 5-8) comeback attempt and hand the Hawkeyes a 69-64 defeat.

Iowa's Melsahn Basabe fouled Graham on an in-bounds play with 25 seconds remaining in the game. The Hawkeyes double-teamed Penn State's go-to guard, Tim Frazier, on the play; that allowed Graham to catch a pass near the sideline.

While the sophomore seemed a likely candidate for Iowa would want at the free -throw line — Graham entered the game a 35 percent shooter from the stripe on the season — he created a 5-point cushion Iowa couldn't overcome in the final seconds.

"We felt we would take our chances with a miss there [and] put the kid under pressure," Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said during a postgame radio interview. "You got to give the kid credit, he made both of them … We just didn't want Frazier or [Cammeron] Woodyard to end up on the line there."

That sequence followed an improbable Iowa run that saw the Hawkeyes shave a 16-point deficit early in the second half to a 2-point Penn State lead with two minutes to play.

Senior guard Matt Gatens sparked the Hawkeyes' comeback attempt by scoring 19 of his game-high 21 points in the second half. Gatens was white-hot after halftime, connecting on 5-of-7 3-point attempts after going 0-for-5 from the field in the first half.

"I thought he was fabulous," McCaffery said. "In the first half, he was really working defensively and couldn't get anything going [offensively]. That happens. He's got tremendous confidence in himself. I have tremendous confidence in him. The job he did in the second half was unbelievable."

The Hawkeyes found themselves down 38-24 at halftime. Forward Aaron White and guard Devyn Marble carried the squad, as they were the only Hawkeyes to make a field goal in the first half. The pair shot 7-of-13 before the break, while all other Iowa players combined to go 0-for-13.

Iowa's defense did an admirable job on Frazier early, holding him to 4 first half points on 1-of-6 shooting. He ended the game with 18 points, 6 of which came from the free-throw line.

Woodyard picked up the scoring slack for the Nittany Lions while Frazier struggled. Woodyard, who averaged just under 9 points per game coming in, scored 12 points before halftime.

Iowa assistant coach Andrew Francis said during a halftime interview that the Hawkeyes' inability to execute their defensive game plan — in particular, paying attention to Woodyard and Jermaine Marshall — cost them dearly.

"We tried to make it a point to tell the guys that this is more than a one-man team," Francis said. "They have a couple other guys who can really score the basketball if you allow them to get their rhythm shots in spots where they want to take their shots."

Woodyard finished with 13 points, as foul trouble cost him playing time in the second half. The senior picked up his fourth foul with 18:11 to play, and sat for almost 12 minutes before re-entering.

It was during that stretch that Gatens caught fire, making his first five 3-pointers.

Iowa played with a much more focused effort after halftime, something that was missing in the first half.

Both McCaffery and Gatens said in postgame interviews that the team's preparation wasn't what it needed to be, which could explain the lackluster first half.

"It's a mentality, you have to have that serious, concentrated effort every day — whether it's a shoot-around or a practice," Gatens said. "We were screwing up things in shoot-around today that we've been over three days in a row. That was disappointing."

Follow DI men's basketball reporter Ben Schuff on Twitter.


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