As the post-game press conference for Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery began Thursday night, the initial comments dribbled out with clipped, frustration-laced brevity.
Did McCaffery consider a timeout during a key moment in the final minutes against Michigan State? “Nah.”
What’s the status of leading scorer Devyn Marble, out against the Spartans with a right ankle injury, for Sunday’s game at Northwestern? “Iffy.”
Thoughts on aggressive, physical, No. 22 Michigan State playing without a foul for almost the first 12 minutes of the game? “No comment on that.”
McCaffery knew the precious opportunity Iowa had squandered in a 62-59 loss at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa had knocked off Michigan State just eight times in the past 31 meetings, and held the lead over the Spartans for the first 31 minutes Thursday. The Hawkeyes — who apparently offended Big Ten schedulers in a past life — started the conference slate with No. 5 Indiana, No. 2 Michigan and the top 25 Spartans.
The Hawkeyes pushed the Hoosiers before falling 69-65, but followed with a 95-67 beatdown against the Wolverines.
As Iowa suddenly stared at an 0-3 start in the Big Ten on a foggy January night, Michigan State provided an opportunity — the kind that is so important in the stacked-beyond-stacked conference that is the best in America.
The Hawkeyes positioned themselves to grab one of those NCAA Tournament-padding victories the committees huddled behind closed doors in March covet so much. McCaffery, who said he’s spending no time thinking about those sort of things, reacted, at least initially, as if he’s a man who does.
The key moment came when Iowa clung to a 56-53 lead with just more than a minute to play.
The Hawkeyes missed a chance to secure a defensive rebound, leading to officials calling a foul on Aaron White as Gary Harris attempted a 3-pointer. The three free throws that followed erased the best chance for the Maturing McCafferys to walk off the court a winner.
“We get that rebound, I think we win the game,” McCaffery said.
The win meant Michigan State — a team that gave No. 6 Kansas its only loss this season — ducked and weaved out of trouble on the way to a 13-3 overall mark and 2-1 in the Big Ten.
Iowa, meanwhile, lamented a wasted moment — and its records of 11-5 and 0-3.
Off the opening tip, however, Iowa appeared motivated and motors-running as it jumped to a 7-0 lead and built the advantage to 26-14. The Hawkeyes scored just two points during the final eight minutes of the half to allow the staggered Spartans to right themselves.
“I was so happy we were only down four at halftime,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We looked bad …
“That was a big win on the road, especially the way we played.”
Unabashed Iowa fan Zach Johnson — known more for starring on the PGA Tour — expressed public dissatisfaction with the officiating. He tweeted: “Worst officiating, on both sides, I’ve seen in years. Average age of refs has to be 78. Ridiculous.”
Dates of birth aside, White said the issues reached deeper and more broadly.
“You can always look at plays,” White said. “Foul a 3-point shooter, missing free throws, missing the rebound, turnovers — I mean, we just did about everything to lose the game.”
Start with 18 turnovers, which had McCaffery simmering.
“You can’t turn the ball over 18 times,” he said. “They don’t change defenses, they don’t press. … When you do, it’s dunks and layups.”
The biggest, most consistent concern expressed by Iowa’s coach, though, was the lack of offensive toughness. The only players who seemed to escape McCaffery’s doghouse were Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe, who combined for 29 points.
A snow-streaked opportunity came and went for Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena — a victory that feels like polished gold when the birds signal spring’s arrival in March.
The initially chilled exterior of McCaffery slowly thawed as the post-game press conference moved forward.
Though Iowa’s coach hated to lose to Michigan State in a game that easily could have flipped, the results against Indiana and the Spartans show this team is capable, and potentially dangerous.
“We were better tonight than we were against Michigan — and that’s a good step in the right direction,” he said.
There can’t be many misses like Thursday moving ahead, though.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball