IOWA CITY, Iowa — Mike Henderson scored a game-high 16 points, one shy of matching his career best, Wednesday night as No. 23 Iowa easily dispatched Penn State, 65-38, inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
But the prize the Hawkeyes (21-8, 10-5 Big Ten) have been shooting for all season — the Big Ten Championship — may have been dispatched as well with ninth-ranked Ohio State’s 56-53 win at Northwestern.
The Buckeyes (22-4, 11-4) keep a one-game lead over Iowa and Illinois in the conference race. The Hawkeyes and the Illini are both tied for second place with 10-5 league records.
“We’ve each got one game left,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “We’ve talked about it all year: Control what you can control. We can’t control what happens in Evanston, but we can control what happens here.”
Iowa will host Wisconsin at 3:35 p.m. on Saturday, but the Buckeyes return to Columbus to host league basement-dweller Purdue on Sunday. The Hawkeyes have lost their last six against the Badgers, including their Jan. 5 match-up in Madison, 66-52.
“It’s horrible,” senior Erek Hansen said of the Hawkeyes’ situation. “We’re going to go into our Wisconsin game and get them beat, and then we’re going to pray for Purdue.”
Hansen scored 15 on 7-of-9 shooting, including three layups during a 15-0 run in the first half that put the Nittany Lions (14-13, 6-10) away.
“We really got the ball inside at that time,” Alford said. “We got the ball going inside out instead of just being on the outside the entire time.”
Penn State’s 2-3 zone kept Iowa out of rhythm and sending up ill-advised 3-pointers for the first nine minutes of the game.
Point guard Jeff Horner missed his first three 3-point attempts, and finished just 2 of 7 from the floor — all from behind the arc. Guard Adam Haluska missed three of his first four 3s, but nailed two more and finished with 11 points for the game.
Penn State’s Mike Walker tied the score at 10 with a layup with 12 minutes left in the first half, the first tie since early in the period. But 9 minutes, 42 seconds later, the Hawkeyes were sitting on a 17-point lead — their largest of the first half.
Hansen’s inside play and a strengthened Iowa defense had much to do with that, and Iowa went into halftime leading 30-17. Penn State’s 38 points was the lowest score an opponent has mustered in Alford’s seven-year tenure.
“Once we started to get the ball inside, they had to drop down and commit,” Henderson said. “That’s when a lot of open shots started coming.”
Henderson, who scored eight of the Hawkeyes’ first 10 points, was 6 of 7 from the field and 3 of 4 at the line in 24 minutes. He also held Ben Luber, who had been averaging 7.5 points a game, to a single 3-pointer.
“I thought Mikey was really, really good tonight,” Alford said. “I thought he really got us going early. He shot the ball extremely well.”
Penn State shot just 25.5 percent for the game. Travis Parker led the Nittany Lions with 13 points, and Geary Claxton finished with nine on 3-of-13 shooting.
“We’ve been awfully good defensively all year, but this might have been our best 40-minute effort defensively,” Alford said. “We took a team that’s been scoring well and making a lot of baskets, and I think we just took them out of just about everything they wanted to do.”
Penn State coach Ed DeChellis agreed.
“Offensively, we were really bad,” he said. “Defensively, we were very lackadaisical because we couldn’t score on the offensive end.”
The victory was Iowa’s 17th-straight inside Carver and 16th home win this season. The 16 wins match the highest number of home wins in a single season, dating to 1985.
With a win Saturday, the Hawkeyes have a chance at becoming the first team to go undefeated inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena in its 23-year history — a fact not lost on Alford.
“I think the guys are excited about what they’ve done,” the coach said. “We’ve got a lot to play for no matter what happens with Purdue on Sunday.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com