The Iowa men’s basketball program has improved dramatically under fourth-year coach Fran McCaffery but still has some work to do to catch up with its fans.
That was apparent Tuesday as the 8-1 Hawkeyes fed off the energy provided by a sellout crowd of 15,400 to defeat Notre Dame 98-93 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Iowa’s depth and versatility certainly played a factor in the outcome with five five players scoring in double figures and nine players scoring at least three points. But the biggest difference was the hostile environment. The fact that most of the fans wore black as was requested also helped to liven up the atmosphere.
“The crowd was amazing,” said senior guard Devyn Marble, who scored 13 of his 17 points during a key stretch in the second half. “A sold-out student section was awesome.The whole blackout thing was real neat and creative. They definitely gave us energy to finish the game.”
It was mostly a late-arriving crowd, with exception to the Iowa student section, which was half full an hour before tip-off. But in this case, better late than never because it wasn’t that long ago when packing Carver-Hawkeye Arena would’ve taken a miracle.
Tuesday’s sellout crowd was the latest example of how far the program has come under McCaffery. The game itself was another example of Iowa’s vast potential, but it also showed there is plenty of room for improvement.
“He’s done a fabulous job here,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said of McCaffery, who spent 11 seasons as a Notre Dame assistant coach from 1988-99 under Digger Phelps and John MacLeod. “I’m thrilled for him. This is all about methodically building a program and it’s blue print. Iowa has great momentum, and since they beat us, I hope they win every game.”
Neither team performed very well on defense in the first half with players from both squads repeatedly finding open shots and open lanes to the basket. That didn’t change much in the second half as evidenced by the two teams combining to score 191 points.
Basketball always has been a sideshow at Notre Dame and probably always will be. But the Irish hardly are a pushover as they showed Tuesday by battling back from a 52-43 halftime deficit. It barely took Notre Dame four minutes to erase the deficit in the second half.
The game was close the rest of the way, but the crowd wouldn’t let this one slip away. Of course, it also helped that Marble scored 13 consecutive points during one stretch in the second half and that Zach McCabe, Gabe Olaseni and Jarrod Uthoff continued to be sparks off the bench.
“Devyn’s run was the difference in the game,” McCaffery said. “We had worked really hard to get a lead. (Notre Dame) is a very experienced and incredibly well-coached team. You knew they were going to make a run. You just didn’t want it to be that quickly. So give them credit, they kept scoring.”
The 6-foot-7 McCabe looks as if he just woke up lots of times with his unshaven face. But you can’t say enough good things about the Sioux City native. McCabe not only does the dirty work like setting tough screens, diving for loose balls and taking charges, but he also shoots well from 3-point range, which is perhaps Iowa’s biggest weakness as a team. McCabe made his only attempt from 3-point range Tuesday and finished with 10 points in 22 minutes off the bench. He has scored in double figures in seven of nine games this season.
The 6-9 Uthoff also made his only attempt from 3-point range, along with 8-of-10 free throws, and finished with 17 points.
Junior forward Aaron White led Iowa with 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field. He also scored his 1,000th point as a Hawkeye in Tuesday’s game.
McCaffery’s only regret was that he didn’t play the 6-10 Olaseni more in the second half. Olaseni played a total of 11 minutes and finished with nine points and five rebounds. But he only played one minute in the second half.
McCaffery didn’t substitute in the second half as much as he usually does and the crowd was part of the reason.
“(It helped) tremendously because I normally sub more in the second half and I left that lineup in there for quite some time and I think the energy level was really helpful,” said McCaffery, who improved his record to 62-51 at Iowa.
The only real problem with Tuesday’s game was the 8:22 p.m. starting time. Call me a fuddy-duddy, but that’s just too late to start a college basketball game. It’s an inconvenience, especially for parents who try to get their little Hawkeye fans to bed at a reasonable hour on a school night.
But thanks to the influence of television, there is no end in sight to the late starting times.
Next Friday’s showdown with Iowa State in Ames has the potential to be a classic with both teams ranked and loaded with talented players.
Unfortunately, it won’t start until 8:30 p.m. at the earliest, so plan accordingly.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball