LINCOLN, Neb. -- Frustration often is the first visible emotion associated after a tough loss, and such was the case with the Iowa men's basketball team.
Iowa (17-10, 6-8 Big Ten) collapsed on both ends of the court and on the scoreboard Saturday in a 64-60 loss at Nebraska. The Hawkeyes gave up a 19-point lead with 48 seconds left in the first half. After halftime Iowa allowed the Cornhuskers (12-14, 4-10) to shoot 62.5 percent from the floor and score 39 points.
Even worse, Iowa's offense lacked any rhythm. The Hawkeyes hit just 7-of-25 field goals in the second half.
"It seemed like in the second half we just couldn’t get a basket," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "We had guys that were normally aggressive offensive players being really very tentative. Wouldn’t shoot, turning down shots, throwing the ball to the wrong guy, throwing it to guys who aren’t open. Fumbling the ball out of bounds."
"We just let up," Iowa senior Eric May said. "We didn’t play well at all. We didn’t get into any rhythm on offense. We didn’t defend. We just didn’t play like we should have and like we could."
Iowa had eight turnovers in the second half, which led to 12 Nebraska points. In the final six minutes, the Hawkeyes fell apart offensively. Iowa gave up easy points, like when Gabe Olaseni rifled a pass under the basket that bounced off the chest of a wide-open Aaron White. May airballed a 3-pointer after making two in the first half. There was Zach McCabe dribbling the ball on the end line, and Devyn Marble charging into a Nebraska double team with the game tied 60-60 and 45 minutes left.
The Hawkeyes tried to avoid making mistakes and, ultimately, they made several. Marble sank 3-of-6 shots in the second half, counting a desperation, full-court heave at the buzzer. He was the only player who consistently attacked the Nebraska defense.
"We definitely weren’t as aggressive in the second half as we were in the first," Marble said. "So that was a big key to our struggles offensively and defensively because we lost our aggressiveness and playing timid and soft. Whenever we’re in that situation again, we’ve got to keep pushing it, keep going.
"You’ve got to find ways to play with the lead and still be aggressive and smart at the same time."
Barring a major collapse, a second straight NIT berth is likely. The Hawkeyes have little time left to improve their resume and revive their NCAA tournament hopes. Iowa plays three of its final four at home and previously had lost to three of them -- Indiana, Purdue and Nebraska -- by a combined 11 points. The Hawkeyes also play host to Illinois and compete in the Big Ten tournament.
The season isn't over, even if NCAA tournament aspirations have faded.
“I challenged them," McCaffery said. "I talked to individuals and some of the things we could’ve done. I hope they feel as badly as I do right now. We’re all in this together. I’m not finger pointing at anybody but you can say ‘what about this’ or ‘what about that?’ We’ll break that down. What could the players have done and what could the coaches have done differently? We’ll get up (Sunday) and get back to work.”
1. Playing out the string. Barring an epic finish, Iowa's season will end with an NIT berth. It isn't the worst outcome; after all, Iowa missed the postseason for five straight years until sneaking in the NIT last year. But McCaffery wants his players concentrating on the task at hand, not on postseason scenarios that won't become official for another three weeks.
"We can’t really worry about it, you know," Marble said. "We’ve got to just keep getting wins. This one hurts, but I know nothing about the way any of that works.
"To be considered a good team, we’ve got to pull games like this out."
So what would constitute epic? Winning the remaining Big Ten regular-season games, including at No. 1 Indiana. Maybe winning at least three games in the Big Ten tournament. Is it possible? Certainly. But Iowa's NCAA chances shifted from challenging to highly unlikely with the loss.
2. Mike Gesell mans up in tough environment. Gesell, a Nebraska native, heard the boos from the partisan crowd in his first basketball trip to the Devaney Center since taking South Sioux City (Neb.) to a runner-up finish last winter. Against the Cornhuskers, Gesell scored six points, dished six assists, grabbed five rebounds, had a block, a steal and two turnovers. He knocked down a pair of jumpers early on, but missed a game-tying 3-pointer with 3 seconds left.
"I was fine with him taking that shot," McCaffery said. "I mean I’ve got one of my best shooters wide open at the 3-point line."
Gesell is confident and competitive despite a humble exterior. The jeers didn't seem to bother him.
"I was expecting it," he said. "I’m from Nebraska, and they’re obviously going to give me a little bit of a hard time. I have a lot of friends who go here, too. It’s got to be expected."
3. Give Talley his due. Nebraska guard Dylan Talley had a terrific game, scoring 18 points while playing 39 minutes. On the game-winning shot, Talley was kept outside the 3-point line until late in the shot clock, then drilled a contested 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded.
"You have to give it to the kid," McCaffery said. "He hit a great shot. You really do. In that situation, I don’t want to drive and foul, I don’t want to throw it inside. They were scoring every time they threw it inside it seemed like. We wanted to shoot a contested jumper in that situation, and that’s what they shot. And the kid made it. Give it to him.”