NEW YORK — Aaron White grew up an NBA fan, living and dying with the fortunes and failures of his home-state Cleveland Cavaliers.
When his favorite team would play the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden, the games seemed to be magnified.
“One of the greatest places, NBA-wise, to watch a game,” the sophomore said. “LeBron (James) would go off, and everyone would be talking about it back home. They call it the Mecca. (Michael) Jordan played great there. Kobe (Bryant) plays great there.”
The Hawkeyes meet Maryland at 8:30 p.m. today in the semifinals of the NIT at Madison Square Garden. Will Aaron White play great there?
“That’s the plan,” White said. “I’m really excited for the opportunity. I’ve been excited, since I was a little kid, to play there. To get to do that is great.”
This is Iowa’s deepest run in seven NIT appearances. The Hawkeyes,
24-12 and winners of six of their past seven games, finished sixth in the Big Ten and are well-schooled in big-time arena atmospheres. Coach Fran McCaffery thinks that experience will keep his team from being wide-eyed in the Garden.
“The court is the same. The baskets are (10 feet high),” McCaffery said.
Madison Square Garden wasn’t available to the four NIT semifinalists on Monday because of a hockey game between the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets. Iowa will get its first chance to test the rims in a shootaround this afternoon.
The Hawkeyes practiced at the Jerome S. Cole Sports and Recreation Center on the NYU campus on Monday, but cut the workout shot by 30 minutes because of sauna-like temperatures in the gym.
Iowa’s opponent, Maryland, is 25-12 and finished seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Terrapins are the only team to beat Duke twice this season.
Guard Jake Layman is looking forward to experiencing Madison Square Garden.
“We know the history behind the place and how special it is to play there and who’s played there, so it’s going to be awesome,” Layman said.
The Terrapins have won five of their last six games, including a 58-57 quarterfinal victory at No. 1 seed Alabama on Wednesday. Iowa’s run to New York included a 75-64 quarterfinal victory at No. 1 seed Virginia on the same day.
“We’re looking forward to playing a great, well-coached Iowa team that has a lot of toughness, and they run the motion as well as any team in the country,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “It will be a great challenge for our defense, but we’re looking forward to it.”
Both teams come into today’s game riding the offensive coattails of a go-to guy. For Iowa, it’s 6-foot-6 junior guard Devyn Marble, who has averaged 25.3 points in three NIT games and 15.1 points for the season.
Maryland counters with Dez Wells, a 6-5 sophomore guard who has averaged 18.3 points in Maryland’s six postseason games — three in the ACC tournament and three in the NIT. That includes a 30-point game in the Terrapins’ 83-74 victory over Duke in the ACC quarterfinals.
“Dez Wells is playing as well as anyone in the country right now,” McCaffery said.
Maryland is averaging 71 points a game, Iowa 70.6, so this could be an up-tempo game, with both teams attacking in transition. Defensively, Maryland opponents are shooting just 38.4 percent from the field. Iowa is limiting opponents to just 38.8 shooting.
Similar numbers, similar goals: a meeting with Baylor or BYU on Thursday for the NIT championship. In a building known the world around.
“I’m thrilled our guys are going to have that kind of experience,” McCaffery said. “But once the game starts, it’s like anything else. The building itself, it’s no different, and you’ve got to focus on the opponent.”
TODAY'S IOWA MEN'S GAME
WHO: Iowa (24-12) vs. Maryland (25-12)
WHERE: Madison Square Garden, New York
TIME/TV: 8:30 p.m., ESPN2
RADIO: WHO-AM (1040) and Hawkeye Radio Network
STAT LEADERS: For Iowa — Devyn Marble 15.1 ppg, Aaron White 6.1 rpg, Marble 3.0 apg; for Maryland — Dez Wells 13.2 ppg, Alex Len 7.8 rpg, Pe’Shon Howard 3.6 apg.
ABOUT THE HAWKEYES: This is Iowa’s third appearance at Madison Square Garden and its first since 1999, when it opened the season by upsetting No. 1 Connecticut 70-68 and then losing to Stanford in the final of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Iowa also played in the 1960 Holiday Classic, beating St. John’s and NYU before losing to Oscar Robertson and Cincinnati 96-83 in the title game.
ABOUT THE TERRAPINS: Maryland has a 2-0 lead in the series with Iowa. The last meeting was a 83-65 contest played in Baltimore as part of the 1999 ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Iowa is 12-25 against ACC foes, including 1-1 this year (lost at Virginia Tech, won at Virginia). Maryland joins the Big Ten in 2014-15.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Both teams share the ball well. Iowa has assisted on 63.3 percent of its made field goals this season (545 out of 861). Maryland has assisted on 56 percent of its made field goals (539 out of 963). The Terrapins turn it over an average of 14.9 times a game.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball