The game was still up for grabs the moment Iowa’s Mike Gesell’s go-ahead free throw dropped to the floor.
The Hawkeyes were in firm control the next moment.
Iowa forward Aaron White intercepted the ensuing inbounds pass by D.J. Newbill and returned to the foul line, where he knocked down a pair of free throws to push his team’s lead to three with 29.2 seconds left in overtime.
White then drilled four more free throws in the final 10.8 seconds to seal the Hawkeyes’ 81-77 win over Penn State at the Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday.
“The steal was the play of the game,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “This was a hard-fought game. Both teams really competed and both teams put themselves in a position to win. Somebody has to make a play and he made it.”
White finished with 21 points and went 11 for 12 from the line to lead five Iowa players in double figures. The Hawkeyes finished 25 for 27 from the line to edge Penn State.
Newbill scored 19 points and Shep Garner had 17 to lead Penn State
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers felt it was a game the Nittany Lions needed to win after seeing them hit 10 3-pointers and four players scored in double figures. But the Nittany Lions (15-14, 3-13) fell short in their 10th single-digit loss in Big Ten play this season.
“It’s probably a mindset at this stage, right?” Chambers said. “You got to believe. You got to have faith. You got to stay focused for 40 minutes and I think we have those mental lapses that hurt us, and I got to do a better job of teaching them in practice, making the simulations as real as possible, as intense as possible, so we can finish these games off.”
Penn State made the first run in the back-and-forth game, taking a 23-11 lead on Garner’s 3-pointer with 11:54 left in the first half. The Hawkeyes answered with a 20-6 run to close the half, taking a 31-29 lead into the break.
The teams traded the lead six times in the second half and went to overtime tied 68-68 after Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff missed a game-winning 3-point attempt in the final seconds.
Iowa (19-10, 10-6) jumped out to a six-point lead in overtime behind back-to-back 3-pointers by Uthoff and Gesell.
“That’s who he is,” McCaffery said of Uthoff’s big 3 after his miss in regulation. “He’s got an uncanny ability to do that.”
Penn State battled back to pull even in the final minute.
Newbill gave the Nittany Lions a chance.
He finished off the glass down low to make it 74-72 with 1:13 to play, and he drove past White and banked in a leaning shot to tie it at 74-74 with 47 seconds left.
The crowd rose to its feet with the Nittany Lions on defense, but Gesell drove to the rim and drew a foul on Geno Thorpe with 30.8 seconds left.
Gesell, who entered the game shooting 66.7 percent from the line, had his first attempt rattle out — Iowa’s second missed free throw of the night. He knocked down the second free throw to give his team the lead.
“I give Mike Gesell a ton of credit,” Chambers said. “Percentage-wise, not the best free-throw shooter. Three-point shooting percentage, not the best 3-point shooter. And he made his free throws and he made a huge 3 that really impacted the game, so I give him a ton of credit for having the courage and knocking that down.”
White then came up with the play of the game.
Newbill retrieved the made free throw and threw the inbounds pass toward Thorpe along the left sideline. White had already made his move, stepping from the elbow out in front of Thorpe to cut off the pass for a steal.
“I feel for him,” Chambers said of Newbill. “You know he wants to do the right thing. He doesn’t want to turn it over there. It’s unfortunate, it’s unlucky and let’s give Aaron White credit. (A) senior who stepped up on the road, made all his free throws and came up with a big steal when he had to.”
Newbill said he didn’t see White when he made the pass.
“We still had a chance, still a lot of time left on the clock,” Newbill said.
Thorpe fouled White to send him to the line with 29.2 seconds left. He hit both attempts to give Iowa a 77-74 lead.
Penn State’s Jordan Dickerson grabbed a rebound off a missed layup by Newbill and drew a foul down low on the ensuing possession. Dickerson hit one free throw, and Penn State sent White to the line again with 10.8 seconds left.
He hit both and knocked down two more with 3.4 seconds left to complete Penn State’s fifth straight loss.
“I like where we’re headed guys,” Chambers said. “I do. I’m not happy with 3-13. Nobody is. But I like where we’e headed.”
Notes: Penn State hosts Ohio State at 6 p.m. Wednesday in its final home game. ... Penn State finished with 15 assists and 15 turnovers Saturday. ... Thorpe had 14 points, and Ross Travis finished with 10 points and nine rebounds for Penn State. ... The Nittany Lions went 10 for 28 from beyond the arc and 13 for 20 at the foul line. ... Iowa was 8 for 21 from 3-point range. ... Penn State’s Julian Moore made his first career start and finished with two points and four rebounds in 11 minutes.