NEW YORK — The University of Iowa men’s basketball team missed a chance to make history Thursday.
Then the Hawkeyes missed again.
Iowa struggled to shoot from start to finish of its 74-54 loss to Baylor, spoiling its first appearance ever in the championship game of the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
The Hawkeyes shot just 26.1 percent as they lost for just the fourth time in the last 15 games of a 25-13 season which finished with an 18-of-69 effort from the field which equaled Iowa’s worst shooting performance of the season.
“The shots we hit, the plays we make, they just weren’t going for us,’’ guard Devyn Marble said. “This stings because we didn’t go down playing our game. How many two-footers did we miss, all of us?’’
More than coach Fran McCaffery preferred to count.
“It seemed like we kept missing easy shots,’’ McCaffery said. “The stat that jumps out to me is that we had 20 offensive rebounds – that’s effort, that’s special. That should have equated to more success offensively.’’
Instead, it led to more frustration.
Baylor’s inside length bothered the Hawkeyes throughout the frigid shooting performance. Iowa struggled to finish around the rim, a concern of McCaffery entering the game, and that was followed by quick shots and a 5-of-24 effort from 3-point range.
“I think we were looking around a little bit because of their length,’’ McCaffery said. “It’s tough because you have to decide, do I go right up or do I shot fake and go up. We short armed a couple, had a couple of one-handed tips that didn’t go in.’’
And as Iowa struggled, matching its shooting performance in a 65-62 overtime loss at Purdue on Jan. 27, the Bears pounced.
The inside-out tandem of Cory Jefferson and Pierre Jackson, the Big 12 leaders in shooting and scoring respectively, bedeviled the Hawkeyes all evening.
Jefferson finished off a 23-point game with a dunk which gave Baylor a 72-51 lead with 1 minute, 32 second remaining, complementing the 17 points and 10 rebounds that Jackson gave the Bears.
But it wasn’t his team’s 54.2 percent shooting that pleased Scott Drew, it was the way his team defended which painted a smile across the Baylor coach’s face.
“Iowa does a great job of pushing the ball up, and then they really execute in the half court very well, but I thought A.J. (Walton) was really able to take them out of it by the pressure he was able to put on their point guards.’’
Walton recorded six steals, five in the first half as Baylor (22-14) took a lead Iowa never caught.
The Bears built their lead early by pounding the ball inside to Isaiah Austin, who scored seven of his 15 points in the first 10 minutes of the game.
Baylor hit just one of its final seven shots of the first half and after trailing 27-22 at halftime, a run of five straight points by Eric May pulled the Hawkeyes within 28-27 just over two minutes into the second half.
Baylor answered with a run of seven straight points in less than a minute, fueling a 14-4 run which broke the game open. Jackson started and ended the flurry with 3-pointers and Jefferson contributed a pair of dunks that left Iowa down 39-29 with 14:43 remaining.
“We got right back in it, and like that it was gone,’’ May said. “They can score in bunches like that and there wasn’t anything we could do to stop them.’’
Led by 13 points off the bench from Mike Gesell and 12 from Aaron White, the Hawkeyes found themselves in a 15-point hole midway through the second half and trailed 58-37 following a dunk by Jefferson with 7:01 to play.
“It just wasn’t our night,’’ White said. “All night, it wasn’t our night.’’
*Devyn Marble finished with six points for Iowa, the third time in his last 15 games the junior was held to single digits. Marble was named to the all-tourney team, as was Alex Leh of Maryland and the Baylor trio of Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Pierre Jackson. MVP honors were given to Jackson.
*Iowa, led by seven rebounds from Zach McCabe, out-boarded the Bears 39-38.
*The five steals that Baylor’s A.J. Walton had in the first half were the most than a Hawkeye opponent has had in game this season. He finished with six. The previous high of four was shared by four players.
* Iowa doesn’t play again until opening the 2013-14 season on Nov. 10, hosting Nebraska-Omaha. The Hawkeyes will take the court prior to that, taking a foreign tour to France and England this summer.