Comeback effort falls short for Iowa men’s basketball as season ends in NCAA Tournament first-round loss to Auburn

The Hawkeyes fell behind by 17 points with 10:50 remaining and closed the gap to four, but they could not complete the comeback and fell, 83-75.


Matt Sindt

Iowa forward Patrick McCaffery puts his head down near the end of a men’s basketball game between Iowa and Auburn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama on Thursday, March 16, 2023. The Tigers defeated the Hawkeyes, 83-75.

Chris Werner, Assistant Sports Editor

BIRMINGHAM, Al. — With 10:50 remaining in the second half of the Iowa men’s basketball team’s NCAA Tournament first-round matchup against the Auburn Tigers, the Hawkeyes trailed, 58-41.

A 13-2 run from the ninth-seeded Tigers in the preceding 2:15, plus a cleary partisan crowd for Auburn — whose campus sits just 2 hours away from Birmingham — swung all the momentum in the Tigers’ favor.

But, as the eighth-seeded Hawkeyes had done all season, they continued to fight. 

In the next roughly six minutes, Iowa poured in 19 points, on 6-of-10 shooting, including three 3-pointers, and cut the lead to 64-60. 

However, the Hawkeyes would get no closer and Auburn advanced to the next round with an 83-75 victory. 

“They had that one stretch where they got hot and they made a bunch of shots,” Iowa forward Patrick McCaffery said postgame. “Some of them were open some of them were in transition, they got loose, we were missing or turned it over and they got loose in transition … They got a lot of momentum and we made a run back and unfortunately it was too little too late.”

Iowa guard Tony Perkins said the mindset was simple after the Hawkeyes got down, 58-41: “bring everything you got.”

“Just the seniors, you know you got to do it for the seniors,” Perkins, a junior, said. “Once we got it down to four, we were hoping we could get down to two and get it down to a tie game and hopefully take the lead.”

But instead, Iowa went cold. 

After Iowa and Auburn traded scores to make it 66-62, The Hawkeyes missed their next four shots and the front end of a 1-and-1 at the free-throw line, and Auburn opened up an eight-point lead at 70-62. 

They’re a very high-powered offense,” Auburn forward Johni Broome said of Iowa. “We knew they had another run in them. They weren’t going to go away. Once they cut it to four we just held up and said, ‘We’ve got to get stops and win this game.’ We relied on each other — box outs, rebounds, contended shots. That’s what we did to finish the game off.”

Auburn’s Donaldson boats perfect shooting night

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said Tigers’ freshman guard Tre Donaldson could’ve played college football “anywhere he wanted.” But Donaldson chose to play basketball and Auburn and had one of the best games in his young collegiate career on Thursday night. 

Donaldson made all three of his 3-point attempts — after converting just eight attempts from beyond the arc in Auburn’s first 31 games this season — and both free throw tries to score 11 points on the night. 

Donaldson’s season-high is 12 points.

“Tre Donaldson is a freshman that’s played about ten minutes a game,” Pearl said. He’s got a toughness about him, a swag, confidence, not afraid. Absolutely not afraid of the moment. And he did not look or act like a freshman at all.”

Big picture

With the loss, Iowa ends the season at 19-14. The Hawkeyes reached the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time under Fran McCaffery, but have failed to advance to the Sweet 16 in any of those appearances. 

Iowa was eliminated in the round of 64 for the third time under Fran McCaffery for the third time and the second straight season. Auburn has won 11 straight NCAA first-round games.