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Bryce Miller: Sourest McCaffery-era loss defined by inability to close

[ 0 ] February 23, 2013 |

LINCOLN, Neb. — Cutting to the chase: There’s no way to sugarcoat Iowa’s loss on Saturday to Nebraska.

Three-wins-in-the-Big Ten Nebraska.

Average-conference-loss-by-15 points Nebraska.

RPI-of-106 Nebraska.

Trailed-by-19 Nebraska.

Even if someone wanted to make the pill a bit sweeter to swallow, where would a person locate enough sucrose to coat all the rough and tattered exterior after a stunning, 64-60 collapse at the Devaney Center?

“I hope they feel as badly as I feel right now,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.

This was the worst loss in a season filled with more than anyone’s Big Ten share of them — and the most ulcerating in McCaffery’s three-year lap around Iowa City. McCaffery could only think of one other season in his 17 as a head coach, at North Carolina-Greensboro, that he could deem more frustrating.

It was a postgame question no one could have predicted when Devyn Marble’s 3-pointer with less than a minute left in the first half bulged the Hawkeyes’ lead to 19 points. Then, the teams switched uniforms — unbeknownst to the 11,849 cozied into the second-to-last game at the gym Bob Devaney built.

Nebraska, which shot 35.3 percent from the field, 16.7 percent from 3-point range and sat an ugly 0-for-4 from the free-throw line at one point, transformed.

The Huskers, the worst scoring offense among the 12 in the math-challenged Big Ten, shot nearly 63 percent after halftime. The Hawkeyes’ accuracy, though, packed up the duffel bag and called it a day.

Iowa shot 28 percent in the second half — including 1-for-8 from outside the 3-point arc — as 19 became 16, then 15, then 10, then 7, then 4, then …

When a 3-pointer from Shavon Shields filtered through net to make it 58-57 Huskers with 2:29 to play, it was Nebraska’s first lead since 2-0. Then, when Dylan Tally drained a back-breaker from well beyond the top of the key with a hand in his face to put Nebraska up 63-60 with nine ticks left, it felt like an “of course he hits that” moment for any versed in the 2012-13 Hawkeyes.

“When you look back, you look at the resume at the end of the season, you’re going to look at it and be frustrated,” said Iowa’s Aaron White, who scored 15 and added a game-high 13 rebounds. “What is it, five possessions in six games or something like that? Something crazy.”

Guess how many bigger comebacks in the 117 seasons of Nebraska basketball were bigger than the one it stitched together against Iowa?

Two. The Cornhuskers came back from 20 down vs. Kansas State in 1996-97 and USC in 2010-11.

As Iowa found out painfully and clearly on Saturday, one person’s comeback is another person’s tumble into the canyon. The Hawkeyes had won three straight and should have made it four in a row in the Big Ten for the first time since 2006.

“We have let a number of games get away, and I think that is something that we just have to get better at,” said McCaffery, who dropped to 1-3 at Iowa against the Huskers, “as a group, players and coaches.”

Shields, who nudged Nebraska back in front after the team floundered in Iowa’s rear-view mirror most of the day, was asked how the comeback ranked.

“On a scale of 1 to 10,” said Shields, the son of NFL offensive lineman all-pro Will Shields, “it was probably 15.”

On the bad-loss scale, rate it a 15 for the guys in black and gold, too.

As dim as it appeared for Iowa after the Husker-induced free fall, though — illustrated most quietly and most profoundly by lone senior Eric May, hands on head after the game, staring blankly at an arena wall — brighter days still seem ahead.

Teams that push Indiana, Michigan State, Wisconsin and then-ranked Minnesota in this season’s bruise-factory known as the Big Ten must possess talent and more than a shake or two of moxie.

Just when someone thought they’d seen Iowa’s last late-game, Big Ten fade, though … heeeeeeerrre’s Nebraska. The inability to close out games, time and again, undoubtedly will be the most circled thing on the Hawkeyes’ chalkboard heading into next season.

Iowa is so young and so close, that there’s little doubt the sunrises will outnumber the darkened box scores moving forward.

On Saturday, though, after a loss against one of the Big Ten’s worst teams to all but extinguish NCAA Tournament hopes, there wasn’t enough sugar in eastern Nebraska.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

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