Reports of Kevin Clark’s demise were a bit premature.
Although he only scored 14 points in Minnesota’s 75-70 win over 12th-ranked Iowa (13-2, 4-1 in the Big Ten) Saturday afternoon, Clark dished out a career-high seven assists. And more importantly, he shut down Hawkeyes shootist Kent McCausland and helped end Iowa’s 11-game winning streak.
McCausland entered the game as the Big Ten’s leading three-point shooter at 56 percent (32-of-57), and Iowa as a team was shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc.
But some in-your-face pressure defense from Clark and fellow guards Mitch Ohnstad and Kevin Nathaniel helped Minnesota (11-3, 2-2) hold the Hawkeyes to 5-of-16 on three pointers.
McCausland, in particular, was held in check by Clark, knocking down only one-of-four three pointers and scoring just seven points.
Gophers coach Clem Haskins said Clark’s defense was instrumental in giving the team its second conference win.
“He makes shots that are unbelievable from 25, 26 or 27 feet from the basket, like most people make layups,” Haskins said of McCausland’s shooting touch. “Kevin Clark was outstanding at not letting him get the looks at the basket.”
McCausland hit the Hawkeyes first three-pointer with just over eight minutes left in the game. He said he had a tough time working through screens and getting away from Clark.
For a team that wins with the three pointer (they hit 12-of-22 in Tuesday night’s 71-68 win at Ohio State), shutting down McCausland was crucial.
“I had to guard him last year, and Coach emphasized that we had to chase him through the screens and beat him to the spot,” Clark said. “Coach asked me if I could do it, and I told him I’d take on the job.”
The pressure on the defensive end limited Iowa to just five assists, 12 below its conference-leading average. It also forced point guard Dean Oliver to be a scorer instead of a creator.
However, that strategy almost backfired when Oliver scored 10 points in the last four minutes to help cut a 66-51 Minnesota lead to 67-65 with 1:44 left in the game.
But Oliver’s heroics — he scored a team-high 24 points — were not enough to overcome a great team effort from the Gophers.
Quincy Lewis, fresh off his game-high 29 points, said shutting down McCausland was not just Clark’s responsibility.
“It doesn’t just stop with Kevin,” Lewis said. “(Nathaniel) and Mitch both did a great job. It was a great team effort.”
Iowa coach Tom Davis agreed.
“I thought almost totally — sometimes you say `We could’ve passed the ball better or screened better,’ and there was some of that — but for the most part it was just really good defense,” Davis said. “It was good athletic, intense play by the defenders that were covering (McCausland).”
McCausland said the Hawkeyes’ 18 percent shooting in the first half frustrated them, allowing Minnesota to take them out of their game. He also said it was tough to get away from Clark in Iowa’s various offensive sets.
“He’s extremely quick,” McCausland said of Clark. “I knew Haskins wasn’t going to let me get any good looks — he never does.”
Michigan comes to Williams Arena on Wednesday with the two-headed three-point monster of Louis Bullock and Robbie Reid.
The two guards rank second and third in the conference, respectively, in three-point shots made, and Lewis said defensively it will be more of the same.
“They’ve got to do the same thing on Michigan’s guards,” Lewis said. “Clark, Nate and Mitch have to keep them from getting the shots, and force turnovers.”