IOWA CITY, Ia. — It was everything, really.
The way Iowa State players walked.
The way they talked.
It was the way the Cyclones treated the basketball like a state fair carnival trinket, rather than an invaluable block of shimmering gold.
Iowa State lost to Iowa 80-71 on Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but not because it possessed less talent than the other locker room. The Cyclones fell in turnover-laden, decision-deficient fashion because their biggest advantage — experience —decided against making the trip to eastern Iowa.
“We didn’t play smart basketball,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said.
That’s the thing that should nag at Cyclone fans and make Hoiberg shake his head to the point of cramps as he breaks down film. Iowa State’s basketball IQ should be through-the-roof in ways that would make a Mensa member jealous.
The Cyclones began the game with a lineup that featured, in reality, 23 years of exposure to college basketball with four fifth-year seniors and junior Melvin Ejim.
Iowa, meanwhile, played like a fully caffeinated pediatrics ward — substituting energy when experience flagged. The Hawkeyes started three freshmen without a senior in sight, to almost no ill effect.
In the first half, coach Fran McCaffery leaned on grizzled if not yet grayed sophomore Aaron White for early shots of adrenaline as much as points. White slashed, cut, pivoted and otherwise pretzeled himself to 14 of his game-high 18 by halftime.
As Iowa State tried to claw back and extend its three-game win streak in the series, however, 19 turnovers and 14 assists (both below season averages) stalled the climb.
“It was lazy, on our parts — not really focusing,” said Korie Lucious, who has played in more NCAA Tournament games alone while at Michigan State (11) than Iowa freshmen Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury and Anthony Clemmons have played games, period, at Iowa.
“We got a little one-on-one-ish.”
McCaffery, for his part, said he saw his lineup getting older Friday right in front of his eyes.
“They did, but it’s not surprising,” he said. “There’s a reason they’re in the starting lineup.”
Iowa State, though, should know better.
And pass better. And defend better. And, well, do most everything better.
If someone had said Iowa would shoot .091 from 3-point range in the first half with rookie guard Gesell misfiring to the tune of ought-for-6 over 20 minutes, it would have seemed like a sure-fire script for a Cyclone runaway. Iowa, however, played smarter at the times decisions mattered more than dunks.
Ejim summed up the night in ways that must change for the Cyclones to galvanize into the talent-rich roster that could cause fits for Big 12 opponents and NCAA Tournament bracket-ologists.
“I definitely think the refs helped them out a little bit today,” Ejim said. “But they did well. They’re young kids, so you’ve got to credit them.
“Definitely credit to them, playing at home, being excited — and I think there’s a sprinkle of refs in there.”
When Ejim fouled out in the closing minutes — a foul for each of the five points he scored — some frustration bubbled to the surface as he purposefully handed the ball to the official.
“Definitely,” he said of the frustration, before bringing up officiating concerns for a third time. “I felt a lot of the calls … I’m not a referee, but as a player I felt a lot of the calls were a little one-sided. It was a little bit of frustration coming out.
“I don’t think I did anything too inappropriate — I handed the ref the ball — but it’s part of the game. You learn from it and move on.”
Experienced, successful teams make better decisions — rather than excuses.
Wrestling icon Dan Gable — a legend on both campuses as competitor and coach —never used officials as cop-outs when his teams failed to deliver. Gable always would say something to the effect of, “We never should have put the ref into position to decide it. We need to decide it.”
In the end, why was Iowa the team fighting off every charge, every run — swatting away Cyclone momentum like it was the older and wiser in gym shorts?
Iowa State has too much talent to be ruled out of anything on a single, chilly night in early December.
Ability needs to partner with maturity sooner than later, though, for the Cyclones to begin thinking about a return to the warm glow of March.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball