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Keeler: Iowa men finally get it done from the line

[ 2 ] December 18, 2010 |

OK, so it’s not exactly a weapon yet. But at least it isn’t as much of a screaming liability.

Going into Saturday night’s 59-52 win over Drake, Iowa had connected on 36 of its last 68 free-throw opportunities, or a robust clip of 52.9 percent.

Those are the kind of numbers that can make a coach turn gray. If Fran McCaffery weren’t plenty gray already.

Iowa guard Bryce Cartwright shoots over Drake guard Kurt Alexander on Saturday night during the first half of the Hawkeyes 59-52 win in Des Moines.(Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

“I think we made enough down the stretch,” McCaffery said of his Hawkeyes, who nailed 17-of-25 from the charity stripe at the Knapp Center, easily Iowa’s best performance from the line in three weeks.

“The one period when Melsahn (Basabe) was getting fouled, he was making them. We needed that. He was in the same situation in the Iowa State game and went oh-fer. That made a big difference as to where (the opponents) were able to take the lead or not.”

The 6-foot-7 freshman went into the weekend shooting 52.9 percent from the stripe — a frustrating number for a player with the kind of hops and post moves that the New York native has flashed over the first third of the season.

Against the Cyclones in Iowa City, he was 0-for-4 at the line; the Hawkeyes lose a close one.  Against Drake on Saturday, he was 5-for-6; Iowa snatches a big in-state victory on the road. Coincidence? Not on your life.

“I know when I step up there, I don’t go to the free-throw line and think, ‘I’m going to miss,’ ” offered freshman guard Devyn Marble, who made good on three of his four attempts, including two huge makes with 1:26 left that gave the Hawkeyes a 55-47 lead.

“I always think I’m going to make it.”

Three of Marble’s teammates — Basabe, Eric May and Bryce Cartwright — came out of the Iowa State loss shooting less than 61 percent from the stripe. Considering that the first two are a couple of your most reliable scorers and the last one is your primary ballhandler, that’s a recipe for a lot of long winter evenings spent banging your head against a wall.

And while we’re on the subject of heads, Marble figures that all these foul-shooting woes are mental, for the most part. Miss one, you start thinking about missing the next one. And the one after that. And the one after that.

“I think we just need to concentrate more,” he continued, ”and take the free throws seriously.”

Considering that five of Iowa’s first 11 tilts have been decided by eight points or fewer — and the Hawkeyes are 2-3 in those games — yeah, that might not be such a bad idea.

“You can just look at it,” Hawkeye center Jarryd Cole noted, “as us maturing before your eyes.”

Which is good, because there will be more games like Saturday’s to come, games where this Hawkeye team plays like the Miami Heat for 10 minutes, and like a bunch of sixth-graders from Fort Lauderdale over the next 10.

As was expected with two relatively young squads, the party opened with a series of spurts and counter-spurts. Iowa raced out to a 14-0 lead — it could’ve easily been 20-0 — before the Bulldogs finally got on the board, on a Ben Simons trey with 14:09 left in the first half.

Then the Hawkeyes did what they’ve shown a tendency to do early on in this campaign: Take a nap. After Drake finally registered a point, the ’Dogs outscored Iowa 14-5 over the next 7:06. Basabe got into foul trouble, the Hawkeyes called off an extremely effective three-quarters-court press, and before you knew it, we had a contest on our hands. Just not a pretty one.

By halftime, each side had already racked up 11 turnovers. In Iowa’s case, most of them were unforced. Those numbers tend to turn a coach gray, too. But if you’re McCaffery, you’ll take this one, happily. Warts and all.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Sean Keeler: Sean Keeler has been a sports columnist at The Des Moines Register since 2002. Got a story tip, comment, complaint? E-mail him at skeeler@dmreg.com. You can follow him on twitter at twitter.com/seankeeler or on Facebook at facebook.com/smkeeler. View author profile.

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