MADISON, Wis. – His post-game news conference over, Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery cut across the Kohl Center court to get to his locker room late Wednesday night.
He had just coached in a 74-70 double overtime loss to Wisconsin, a game that included 145 field-goal attempts. One stood out.
“I thought it was in,” McCaffery said, standing near the spot where Josh Oglesby had attempted a 3-pointer with 4 seconds remaining in regulation. “I was standing right here. I’m looking right at it. I said, “That’s in, we’re out of here.’”
But instead of going in, Oglesby’s shot went halfway down and popped out. Two overtimes later, McCaffery and his players were saddled with another excruciating loss. An Iowa team with little margin for error has been walking the Big Ten tightrope, only to fall off a step or two short of the intended destination.
Seasons are defined by numbers. Last season was remembered for a 4-3 record against Top 25 teams. This season, it’s 0-5 in Big Ten games where the Hawkeyes had the lead, were tied or down one possession in the final minute of regulation. Two of those five losses have been in overtime.
“You can never get too high or too low,” Iowa’s Aaron White said. “Coach preaches that. You’re not going to get much out of it if you complain and think, “What if?’”
So forget the what-ifs for a team that is now 3-7 in the Big Ten and 14-9 overall heading into Saturday’s game with Northwestern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
A team that has to win six, maybe seven of its last eight regular-season games to even get mentioned in NCAA Tournament bubble talk.
A team that has to learn how to win close games, period.
“There’s no time for the 'What ifs,’” Iowa’s Eric May said. “I haven’t thought that way. I don’t have time for that. It’s time for us to get some wins.”
Wednesday was the fourth Big Ten game where Iowa has taken the lead into the final 2 minutes of regulation. The Hawkeyes are 0-4 in those games.
There are other numbers not pleasing to the eye. In the five losses where the last minute of regulation was not kind to Iowa, consider this: the Hawkeyes have shot 36.2 percent from the field or worse in four of them. The lone exception was 45.2 shooting in a 62-59 loss to Michigan State. Iowa sho
t 33.8 percent against Wisconsin.
Though Iowa might have deserved a better fate at the Kohl Center, McCaffery pointed out the fact that his team missed 49 of 74 field-goal attempts. Iowa is 11th in the Big Ten in field-goal shooting at 38.5 percent.
“We had some great looks,” McCaffery said. “That’s another reason why we go with different lineups, because we’ve got to find guys who can score.”
Devyn Marble was Iowa’s leading scorer heading into Sunday’s game at Minnesota. He failed to score there, and was one-for-10 from the field against the Badgers. He played just 18 minutes against Wisconsin, and 17 against Minnesota.
“I thought he was in a flow,” McCaffery said. “He was shooting the ball, driving the ball, attacking the basket, nothing went down for him. His line wasn’t good. At least he was aggressive early in the game. And that’s what I want him to be.”
McCaffery has made liberal use of his bench all season, but even more the last two games as he searches for someone who can put the ball in the basket. The Iowa bench outscored Minnesota and Wisconsin’s bench by a collective 60-8 margin in the last two games. Iowa’s starters have been outscored in those two games, 128-69.
Defense has been a bright spot this season, but the Hawkeyes have struggled to get a stop when it means the most.
Holding a 51-42 lead just inside of 6 minutes to play, Iowa left the Badgers’ Ben Brust wide open for a 3 on an out-of-bounds play. On the next possession, Jared Berggren scored on a drive to the basket, was fouled by Melsahn Basabe and made the free throw. Those six points, in 47 seconds, matched Wisconsin’s offensive output for the previous 11:38. And it was game on.
“That was unfortunate, because that changed everything,” McCaffery said. “That made it a one possession game very quickly.”
White was left unguarded on the right block as Oglesby’s final shot attempt of regulation was unfolding.
“I did see Whitey, but I decided to shoot it,” Oglesby said. “I thought it was a good shot. I was coming off a screen, and it would have been tough (to get him the ball). I knew there were a couple of seconds left, but I didn’t want to turn the ball over. I thought I had a pretty clean look.”
McCaffery didn’t second-guess Oglesby’s decision.
“Coming off a screen, he doesn’t know exactly how much time is left,” McCaffery said. “You don’t want to throw that pass and have the (buzzer go off). You’ve got to get a shot.”
In the end, the game had followed a familiar plot.
“We’re going to keep battling,” White said. “That’s the M.O. of this team. We’re going to keep playing hard. We’re putting ourselves in position to win games. And we’re eventually going to close them out.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball