Eric May’s words were coated in disappointment.
“It hurts,” the lone senior on Iowa’s basketball team said, eyes downcast, outside the Hawkeyes’ Williams Arena locker room after a gut-twisting 62-59 loss to Minnesota Sunday.
Turn back the calendar to Oct. 11, 2012. Iowa held its annual basketball media day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. May, who has survived injuries and some of the most trying seasons in Hawkeye history, talked of his desire to get a taste of the NCAA Tournament in his final college season.
“That’s the goal,” May said. “And it’s exciting. That’s what’s on our mind. We’re not settling for going .500. We want nothing to do with that.”
Sunday was another brick blocking May’s dream. Four games, three of them against Top 25 teams. Four games with a lead, the game tied or down one possession in the final minute. Four losses.
“We fully expected to win this game,” May said Sunday. “I don’t think we played like that the whole game. We’re really a good team and we have to play like it.”
An hour before tip, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery stood in front of his bench and talked of a season that has headed down the road of frustration.
“We’re so close,” McCaffery said.
A 40-minute game later, another chapter had been added to a what-could-have-been season.
A game is defined by a series of plays. Each one plays a factor in the outcome. The ones at the end of a game are magnified. And nothing sums up Iowa’s season more than this play.
Minnesota trailed, 59-57, with Andre Hollins in-bounding the ball left of the Gopher basket with 13.6 seconds on the clock. The official handed the ball to Hollins, and Gopher players scurried through a series of cuts and screens designed to get someone open. Iowa’s zone denied the designed option. A five-second violation was rapidly approaching. The official has already gone past the four count and was starting the fifth when Andre Hollins saw Austin Hollins break free on the right wing behind the 3-point line.
Two seconds later, the Gophers were celebrating a one-point lead.
It was a 3-pointer Iowa shouldn’t have allowed to be atte
mpted at all. Get in his face, make him drive to the basket. If he scores, it’s still tied. But no one made the play when it mattered most. The same could be said for pivotal players in the other three close calls, to Indiana and Michigan State at home and at Purdue.
“In our players’ defense, we made the choice to play zone in that situation,” McCaffery said. “So we are more susceptible to give up a jump shot. I’m not blaming anybody by any stretch of the imagination. I just would have liked to have gotten up into his face quicker.”
Some defense like Austin Hollins played on Mike Gesell as he tried to take a jumper from the left wing on the ensuing possession. Hollins stuffed him, they scrambled after the ball and Minnesota got possession with :04.1 to go.
“He had a number of different options,” McCaffery said. “And they got up into his face.”
On a day when Iowa fell into a 14-2 hole to start the game, made just 10 of 17 free throws and shot 36.2 percent from the field, defense kept them in the game until the one pivotal play when it mattered most.
“We lost track of him,” May said of Austin Hollins. “It’s unacceptable.”
Now comes a game at Wisconsin on Wednesday for an Iowa team that is 3-6 in the Big Ten, 14-8 overall.
One of McCaffery’s biggest challenges is getting leading scorer Devyn Marble out of his funk. The junior guard, averaging 14.4 points a game, went scoreless in 17 minutes Sunday. It was his shortest appearance in a Big Ten game since playing 11 minutes at Northwestern as a freshman.
Asked why he hadn’t used Marble more, McCaffery said, “Because he wasn’t playing well.”
Marble attempted just two shots, both 3-pointers, and had one of those blocked. He made a shot on a drive in the second half, but it was wiped out when he was whistled for a charge.
“I just couldn’t get into a rhythm,” Marble said.
Marble has struggled since injuring his left ankle and left toe in practice before the Michigan State game Jan. 10. Marble missed that game against the Spartans, a 62-59 loss. In the six games since, Marble has made just 15-of-50 shots from the field, including 3-of-18 from 3, while averaging 8.2 points.
McCaffery had no plans to remove Marble from the starting five.
“I wasn’t concerned about him until (Sunday),” McCaffery said Monday. “I felt like he had been playing pretty well. He was not himself (at Minnesota). I think that needs to be addressed. I don’t think taking him out of the starting lineup is the answer. He’s one of our guys, one of our key guys, my leading scorer, he’s versatile, he can play a number of different positions. He’s an experienced guy. I just think we have to help him through it.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball