MINNEAPOLIS — You know how when you travel to far-off places, you often leave something at home that you meant to bring?
The Iowa basketball team has done it a few times this season and it did it again Sunday.
The 19th-ranked Hawkeyes showed up at Williams Arena without a defense, allowing Minnesota to race out to an early lead and hold off a furious rally in the final minutes to claim a 92-87 victory over Iowa.
The Golden Gophers, led by Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey, shot 57.1 percent from the field and scored more points than any team has against the Hawkeyes this season.
It left Iowa coach Fran McCaffery and his players wondering what happened to a defense that often has appeared greatly improved this season.
“I just didn’t think we were as locked in as we wanted to be coming off the tip,’’ sophomore center Luka Garza said. “We just weren’t able to keep the intensity up and pressure the ball … Just overall poor execution at the defensive end.’’
Asked if it was a lack of execution or shortage of effort, Garza said it was a blend of both.
“I think everyone wanted to play hard, everyone wanted to play with effort,’’ he said. “We just weren’t as locked in as we needed to be. That’s unfortunate because that’s something we can control.’’
The Hawkeyes (16-5, 5-5 Big Ten) had few problems at the offensive end as Garza matched his career high with 25 points with Isaiah Moss adding 23 and Tyler Cook 18. They shot 54.2 percent from the field themselves.
But that was more than offset by a defense that was bad from the beginning. Minnesota scored on its first six possessions and 15 of its first 21, averaging 1.57 points per possession in a 55-point first half.
“It was kind of like last year’s defense,’’ Garza admitted.
When the Minnesota lead reached 12 early in the second half, McCaffery yanked all of his starters from the game and played five subs for a few minutes.
“I was trying something,’’ McCaffery said. “What we were doing before was not working. So you can change the offense, you can change the defense or you can change personnel.
“To the credit of the guys we put in, they were better. And more importantly to the credit of the guys I took out, they were better when I put them back in.’’
Moss said he and the other starters deserved to be benched.
“We weren’t executing so we can’t be mad at him for taking us all out,’’ he said. “The second unit did a good job and we came back in and fought.’’
“He was obviously trying to send a message and I think we received the message well,’’ Garza added. “We came in there and fought but he shouldn’t have to do that.’’
When Coffey drilled a 3-pointer with just under six minutes remaining, the Minnesota lead reached its peak at 81-65, but the Gophers struggled to finish off the Hawkeyes.
Iowa turned up the defensive pressure and Minnesota made just two of 10 free throws in one stretch. That opened the door for an 11-0 scoring run capped by a Garza 3-pointer that sliced the margin to 81-76 with 3 minutes, 27 seconds to go.
The Hawkeyes twice got to within four points with the ball, but couldn’t get any closer.
With the score 82-78, Cook was fouled but then shot an air ball on the front end of a 1-and-1.
After Joe Wieskamp cut it to 84-80 with a pair of foul shots, Cook rebounded a Minnesota miss and drove the length of the floor, then lost the ball on his way to the basket with 55 seconds remaining.
“Typically, I’m OK with him taking it coast to coast like that,’’ McCaffery said. “That obviously was not a real good decision at that point in time.’’
“I’m always trying to make plays, trying to get to the paint and I just mishandled it a little bit,’’ Cook explained. “That’s all it was.’’
Dupree McBrayer finally hit one free throw and a missed 3 by Moss turned into a breakaway dunk by Eric Curry that gave the Gophers some breathing room with 32 seconds to go.
Murphy and Coffey each scored 23 points for Minnesota (15-5, 5-4 Big Ten) with freshman Gabe Kalscheur adding 19. Murphy added 11 rebounds and six assists and moved into second on the Big Ten’s career rebounding list, passing former Purdue great Joe Barry Carroll.