IOWA CITY, Iowa — After the loss at Michigan on Wednesday, Iowa coach Steve Alford said Jeff Horner was “key.” The sophomore point guard proved it again Saturday.
Where the Mason City, IA.-native couldn’t buy a shot in Ann Arbor (1-of-6), Horner opened with a blazing perfect record — 4-of-4 from the field with three 3-pointers — in the first half against Penn State.
Horner missed just one shot in the entire game, tied an Iowa record with a perfect 6-of-6 from beyond the arc and scored a team-high 20 points to lead the Hawkeyes to a 77-58 victory against the Nittany Lions before a crowd of 13,674 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Horner has scored 20 points or more in four of the last six games.
“It is a little bit (different),” Horner said. “We’ve been playing great at home, and now we have to take the game on the road. We have to pick something up.
“I remember when I hit the third or fourth one and it felt pretty good,” Horner added. “My shot’s been feeling pretty good lately.”
The Hawkeyes hit 10-of-14 triples in the first 20 minutes in a barrage of 3s that left the Nittany Lions buried with a 45-22 halftime deficit.
Horner’s opening led Iowa to shoot 17-of-24 from the field in the first half (70.8 percent) and close the door early on the Nittany Lions. Pierre Pierce equaled Horner’s 11 first-half points, while seniors Glen Worley and Brody Boyd put in 10 and nine respectively.
“I don’t think that was a strategy,” Worley said about the 3s. “It kind of turned out to be that way. That was something that was really good, but we have to establish a post presence throughout the next nine or ten games.”
“I think Brody hit one and I asked, `What’s going on here?'” said Horner. “It was awesome. We’ve turned into a pretty good shooting team, and it’s just awesome when you can shoot like that.”
Pierce scored 17 points, Worley put in 14 and Boyd added nine in the game. Iowa (11-7 overall, 4-3 Big Ten Conference) hit 55.1 from the field and was at 60.9 percent for 3-pointers. The Hawkeyes have the third-best scoring offense in the league, averaging 74.3 points per game. Illinois leads the Big Ten with 75.6.
And while 3s were falling like snow for the Hawks, absolutely nothing worked for Penn State. It could only muster a lowly 24.3 percent from the field, including 1-of-11 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes.
“Obviously, it was a very impressive first half,” Penn State coach Ed DeChillis said. “They shot the ball extremely well. We didn’t do that at all the first half, and in the second half we actually played like a basketball team.”
Iowa’s defense held the Nittany Lions (9-9, 3-4) to three free throws until the 13:53 mark in the first half, when freshman guard Ben Luber made a layup to begin to salvage the 17-3 deficit.
PSU could only hit one in three shots through the match-up, increasing the average only by capitalizing on Iowa’s fatigue in the last eight minutes with a 16-3 run. The Nittany Lions were 5-of-24 for 3s and 5-of-14 at the line.
Although Luber beat his season-average 7.5 points with eight in the first half and had 11 for the game, Pierce neutralized PSU’s leading scorer Jan Jagla, who usually averages 15.2 points per game.
The Pierce-Jagla match-up was perhaps the oddest on the court with the 6-foot-4 Pierce up against the 7-foot Jagla. But it worked, and Jagla went 5-of-17 for 11 points.
“I’ve never guarded anyone 7-feet tall,” said Pierce. “I knew he was a perimeter player, and I just wanted to get at him and make him dribble. I knew I had help, so I just tried to make him go to the hole.
“I just tried to play physical and keep him on the outside with contested jump shots.”
“It was really no match-up. Pierce just took him off the dribble,” said DeChillis.
Marlon Smith was Penn State’s leading scorer with 22 points in the game, but 12 of those came in the 16-3 Nittany Lion run late in the second half.
“They decided to compete in the second half, but it was too late, they were down 20-something against a very good team on the road,” DeChillis said. “We didn’t have that mentality here this evening to come in here and play.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com