BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — After most of the games during Iowa’s run of losing five of its last six games, the refrain from Hawkeyes players has been that they haven’t come out with enough toughness or the right mentality until their opponent forces them to do so.
That was explicitly brought up after Virginia Tech last Tuesday and again on Monday night after a 77-64 loss at Indiana (5-4, 1-1 Big Ten) in which the Hoosiers went on a 14-0 run in the first half and an 18-0 run in the second half.
Only an 11-0 run by Iowa (4-5, 0-2) to start the second half — led by backup guards Brady Ellingson and Maishe Dailey, as starters Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss sat watching — was able to spark the Hawkeyes. That stretch, the first six minutes, was the embodiment of the mentality every Iowa player says they want to have.
So why, after losing far more than they’ve won recently and after saying they need to come out stronger and be the aggressor, hasn’t that happened?
“It could be a lot of reasons, but we’re not a team to make excuses,” Bohannon said. “We’re not playing hard enough on both ends of the floor. There are spurts where we’re really good on offense, there’s spurts where we’re really good on defense and it was another inconsistent game from us.
“Obviously there’s always something you can take a lesson from. Hopefully (we) can find that as we’re going home (Monday night) and getting ready for Iowa State on Thursday.”
Bohannon said after the game the loss was essentially on him.
The sophomore guard had a team-high five turnovers, though he was far from alone in the mistake category. The Hawkeyes had 13 turnovers at halftime, 18 by the end, and while no one else had more than three individually, mistakes plagued them all night.
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But it was the final play of the first half that incensed head coach Fran McCaffery, and led to the very clear message sent to a few of his starters to begin the second half. Instead of Bohannon, Moss, Jack Nunge and Tyler Cook, it was Ellingson, Dailey, Nicholas Baer, Nunge and Cook.
Bohannon didn’t hide from the message or the lesson. He said “I deserved to not play. I wasn’t playing hard enough, obviously, and if the second group didn’t step up like they did, we would’ve lost by 30 or more.”
Ellingson had eight of his 16 points (6 of 9 from the field and 3 of 4 from 3-point range) and Dailey, who didn’t have a turnover, had all four of his assists in that stretch. Their play followed a disastrous end to the first half.
Iowa got the ball with around 28 seconds to go in the first half. Bohannon’s turnover resulted in a transition layup attempt that was missed by Josh Newkirk and was rebounded and put back at the buzzer by Aljami Durham — all while only Bohannon made the full effort to get back and defend, leaving the Hawkeyes down 41-26.
That sequence and the offense being stagnant in pretty much all parts of the game save for the first six minutes of the second half, where Ellingson and Dailey were so good, was enough to tell the story of the game. McCaffery said the ball not moving was a little bit on Bohannon, a little on Moss and a little on Cook, all who “struggled in that area.”
“That’s unacceptable,” McCaffery said. “We didn’t execute and we didn’t run back.
“(It’s) guys trying to do it on their own. It’s not an unusual tendency when your team is struggling. If you’re a player, you want to make a play. But there’s a right time and a wrong time. There’s a right way and a wrong way. Our decision-making in that area hasn’t been good.”
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What’s next for Iowa still is to be determined. There’s a lot that could happen, and a few things that probably won’t.
McCaffery said “I don’t think so,” when asked if the rotation could shrink or adjust in terms of distribution of minutes. He said “I don’t know that it’s any different than what I said the other day,” when asked what the coaching staff might do differently in terms of an approach toward the guys.
He said “it’s not out of the realm of possibility,” for Dailey to play more point guard going forward because “he’s a guy that can bring the ball down. I trust him up there.” Dailey said he’s “really comfortable” there and that “I did in high school and it’s not much of an adjustment for me.”
No one is sure what will happen in that regard when Connor McCaffery returns from being out with mononucleosis, but Dailey said he’s happy to do whatever is asked of him.
So is Bohannon, who said Monday night he still wants to play point guard and still believes he’s capable of playing it at the Big Ten level — something he excelled at last season, and did in high school. Bohannon was as adamant about going to bat for Dailey’s minutes as anything, and said he deserves the minutes he’s earned.
But whatever toughness and whatever fight the Hawkeyes feel they need, Bohannon put it on himself to be the spark for that — even if he’s clearly not the only one to blame.
“Obviously they’re up into me, they’re trying to take us out of our sets, they’re trying to pressure me when I’m bringing the ball up the floor … and I just haven’t been doing a good job with that,” Bohannon said. “I’ve been really frustrated with myself because I don’t think I’ve been playing as hard as I want to or up to my potential like I’m supposed to. I feel like all these games we’ve lost are my fault because I haven’t been playing as well as I should’ve and I should be running the team (on the floor) a lot better than I’ve been doing.”
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