Iowa coach Fran McCaffery has lived through the frustration before. He’s seen one of his basketball teams earn a degree in playing just good enough to lose. That doesn’t make this season any easier to deal with.
The Hawkeyes have held the lead or been tied in the final minute of their last five Big Ten road games. Saturday’s 64-60 loss at Nebraska is the latest example.
Throw in home Big Ten losses to Indiana and Michigan State, and Iowa has played seven Big Ten games where they’re had the lead, were tied or had a shot to tie the game in the final minute. Their record is those games is 1-6.
“I had one that was a lot worse,” McCaffery said.
We introduce you to McCaffery’s 2002-03 North Carolina-Greensboro team. The Spartans finished the season 7-22. They lost six of their first 20 games by five points or less. And then things really went south. They lost their last five games by two points, one point, three points, overtime and four points.
So McCaffery already had a degree in gut-wrenching seasons before he stepped foot on the Iowa campus in March of 2010.
What he’s done in the last three seasons has been remarkable, when you consider what he inherited. Eleven wins the first season grew to 18 last season. And now 17 wins this season with three of the final four games at home, where sleepy Carver-Hawkeye Arena has come out of its slumber.
But all that positive vibe can’t help wash down Saturday’s bitter pill, when Iowa let a 16-point halftime lead slip away to a Nebraska team that entered the game 3-10 in the Big Ten.
The Cornhuskers, under first-year coach Tim Miles, have made a living at hanging around. In six of its previous 12 games, Nebraska had been within two possessions of the lead in the final seven minutes of a game. Four of those games were against Top 25 teams.
On Saturday, against an Iowa team playing for their NCAA lives, the Cornhuskers broke through.
“We didn’t have the same intensity level at the start of the second half that we did in the first,” McCaffery said. “That’s really disappointing. Because this team (Nebraska) has shown it was going to keep fighting, keep coming.”
In The Nebraska locker room, Miles walked up to a board where he had written the keys to the second half and erased it.
“He told us none of it matters if we don’t play with energy,” forward Brandon Ubel said. “That’s what we did the second half. And that’s why we won the game.”
MCaffery told him team the first four minutes were the most important. Match their energy, and the game is ours. But Nebraska opened the half with a 12-4 run, and Iowa lost its aggressiveness.
“We started playing a little more like mice,” Iowa’s Devyn Marble said. “A little more timid.”
Iowa looked like a team trying to hang on, instead of a team going for the jugular.
“We just have to figure out, are we going to be aggressive no matter what and live with the consequences?” McCaffery said. “ We got tentative. We were trying to hold on to (the lead). You can’t hold on for 20 minutes. You have to attack, the same way you got the 16-point lead.”
As he has done his entire time at Iowa, McCaffery refused to throw any player under the bus afterwards. He said the players, and the coaching staff, have to get better collectively.
“And then you get up tomorrow and get back to work,” McCaffery said.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball