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Bryce Miller: Bitter defeats the frustrating narrative for Iowa men

[ 0 ] February 3, 2013 |

MINNEAPOLIS — “Groundhog Day” played anew for the Iowa men’s basketball team, with a fresh but familiar ending that left the Hawkeyes reaching for a sledgehammer to swing at the alarm clock.

One game, it’s Michigan State. Another game, it’s Indiana. Another, it’s Purdue.

In the newest installment, the star tacked to the actor’s on-set trailer belonged to No. 23 Minnesota. The Gophers trailed Iowa for the final 13 minutes Sunday before Austin Hollins drained another soul-crusher in sneakers — a baseline 3-point shot with 11.6 seconds left.

Iowa fell 62-59 in a game it could have won, and needed to win.

In the process, the team’s best shot at navigating a kinder, gentler portion of the Big Ten schedule and creating an NCAA Tournament case likely vanished along with another late-game chance.

“We’ve got to take responsibility for why this keeps happening,” Iowa forward Melsahn Basabe said. “It’s not about confidence. It’s about being man enough to accept the reasons why we keep losing and change it.

“ … If you can’t transfer it to games, it becomes useless in a sense. You’ve got to do stuff when the lights are on — when it counts.”

The lights sparkled again for Iowa, with its most reasonable shot at a remaining signature win — a signature road win — sitting at the ready like a holiday gift just moments from being fully wrapped.

It unraveled, though, before the bow could be pulled pretty and tight.

Iowa led 59-57 when Joe Coleman’s errant pass translated to an over-and-back call with 1:04 left. The Hawkeyes, though — with a chance to seize the game and write the end of a new script — added a bad turnover of its own when Devyn Marble’s pass sailed into the seats with 36 seconds to go.

Once Hollins’ story-changer landed in the books, Iowa point guard Mike Gesell coughed up the ball with just under five clock ticks left. One more shot remained, but Gesell’s 3-pointer from the right wing bounced out.

Gesell dropped down, palms flat on the Williams Arena court, in a “thought that was in” pose.

Was there a chance the ball would nestle in the net, though? It didn’t feel like it — not with this team, not this season.

Iowa’s now lost four Big Ten games by four points or less. In each of those groaners, it led or tied or was within one possession in the final minute of regulation.

Now, as the second half of the conference schedules looms, six games come against teams in the bottom half of the standings.

Even if the Hawkeyes sweep those games — and someone assumes, just for the sake of basic math, losses at national title contender Indiana, at Wisconsin and at home against these same ranked Gophers — 9-9 in the Big Ten is no guarantee of an NCAA future.

And without one of those marquee victories, the kind that turned into a missed moment Sunday, a slim chance become no chance.

“We obviously blew an opportunity today,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.

The biggest head-scratcher for Iowa continues to be the play of Marble, the team’s leading scorer.

The well-documented shooting slump of Marble came with an unexpected wrinkle when he was benched for nearly 11½ minutes of the second half. Marble, a junior who averages nearly 31 minutes, played just 17.

Marble quietly talked about finding his old self after the game after being held scoreless, but his Funk is with a capital “F” these days — rather than lowercase. It’s probably underlined, bolded and circled, too.

McCaffery, pressed to explain his top scorer’s limited duty, finally relented.

“Clearly, he’s not playing with any confidence,” McCaffery said.

About the time someone decides to cash in Iowa’s chips this season, it shows the puzzle pieces for a team that could continue to prove talented and dangerous.

It’s not a bad team, really. It fights, as it showed after falling into a 14-2 mineshaft to start Sunday’s game. The bench provided boosts that mattered, especially from Zach McCabe and Josh Oglesby.

There’s no sugar-coating, rust-coating or any other kind of coating this one, though. It was the kind of corner-turner Iowa needed. And, again, it found ways to lose rather than win as the final minute arrived.

This is a team that comes close — the most back-handed compliment of them all.

How many punches to the head and heart can one team endure? How many times can “almost” rear its ugly, groundhog head and rub locker-room energy down to a nub?

One more time, Lucy pulled the football away just before Charlie Brown could kick it.

Everyone’s seen this movie. It happened Sunday. Again.

Bryce Miller can be reached at 515-284-8288 or brmiller@dmreg.com. Follow on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

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