By Luke Thompson
Special to the Register
CANCUN, Mexico — The story of the Iowa men’s basketball team’s early season has been its much-improved defense, which has held opponents to less than 35 percent shooting and 56 points per game.
But the Hawkeyes met their match Wednesday night against Wichita State in the Cancun Classic championship game. Iowa fell 75-63, making just four two-point field goals in its first loss of the season.
“That’s a Big Ten team,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who coached his 500th career game. “You look at them physically and the way they play. That’s why this is a great experience for us.”
Iowa made just 1-of-13 two-point field goal attempts in the first half, but the Hawkeyes still took a 35-33 lead into halftime thanks to 7-of-8 shooting from 3-point range. Sophomore Josh Oglesby made four off the bench.
The Hawkeyes kept attacking the physical Shockers (6-0), and were rewarded with 31 points from the free-throw line on 39 attempts.
Even though 63 points was enough to beat Western Kentucky in Tuesday night’s semifinal, the Shockers rallied back behind 25 points from tournament MVP Cleanthony Early off the bench. The athletic forward scored from just about everywhere, leading a Wichita State attack that shot 42 percent from the field in the second half.
The Shockers also outrebounded Iowa 38-30, and McCaffery said his team could have used some more second-chance opportunities. Nothing came easy for either team, as Wichita State had the game’s only four fast break points.
“I thought defensively both teams were really locked in,” McCaffery said. “The rebounds were smash-mouth.”
Iowa failed to take advantage of a Wichita State field goal drought that lasted more than seven minutes early in the first half. But Early scored eight straight points, including two 3-pointers, to snap Wichita State form its funk.
Iowa’s 11 first-half fouls were trouble, especially for freshman point guard Mike Gesell, who played just four minutes before halftime. The Hawkeyes’ third-leading scorer didn’t get his only two points until he went to the free-throw line with 6:35 to play in the game.
When the shooting woes continued into the second half, Wichita State took advantage with a 12-0 run to open the first commanding lead of the game for either team. Iowa quickly answered with a 9-2 run of its own, keyed by a two-handed dunk from Eric May, to cut the lead to 48-46 with 12:10 remaining.
But with no relief coming from beyond the 3-point line, Iowa made just 4-of-24 shots in the second half to finish 26 percent from the field for the game. Another 7-0 Shockers’ run helped Wichita State maintain its advantage as Marble and others continued to struggle.
“I think we were getting pretty good shots,” said Marble, who felt slowed down after he moved to point guard with Gesell on the bench. “(Eric) May missed another two layups. We were missing too many easy buckets and even when we got a stop on the other end we couldn’t score.”
McCaffery felt like his team never stopped battling, and the Hawkeyes kept attacking the athletic Shockers defense. Aaron White scored all eight of his points from the free-throw line, and he thought the Hawkeyes could have drawn even more fouls.
Wichita State seven-footer Ehimen Orukpe made life inside difficult for Iowa, blocking five shots and altering several others. The more athletic Shockers scored 30 points in the paint to the Hawkeyes’ six, and freshman center Adam Woodbury missed all three of his field goal attempts.
“(Orukpe) was blocking shots, tipping balls out, keeping the ball alive, getting rebounds,” White said. “Obviously a big presence down low affects anyone going to the hole, especially going to the hole we knew he was a shot blocker and that’s what he did tonight.”
The Hawkeyes fell to 5-1 and will end their three-game road trip Tuesday at Virginia Tech as part of the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. The loss was Iowa’s sixth game in the last nine days.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball