GRAND CAYMAN, Cayman Islands — The effort was better. The result was the same.
The Iowa men’s basketball team struggled to put together a complete performance in its second game of the Cayman Islands Classic, but it did manage to show signs of improvement on both offense and defense. The Hawkeyes shot 51 percent from the field and out-rebounded South Dakota State on Tuesday, but still fell, 80-72, to the Jackrabbits.
For Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery, the lesson is simple — the Hawkeyes have to improve to get where they want to go.
“We’ve got to get better,” he said. “Even though we’ve got a young team, we’ve got to play like a veteran team in close games late. We didn’t do that yesterday and we didn’t do that today. We made runs. We were right there. We could’ve won either game but we didn’t win either game. You’ve got to understand what you have to do in those situations better. And then execute. Really good teams execute their stuff.”
Iowa came out aggressive in Tuesday’s game and earned an early 6-0 lead, but South Dakota State methodically worked its way back into the game. SDSU earned an 18-17 lead with 10:35 remaining in the half and never trailed again. Iowa cut the lead to one point late in the half, but Mike Daum gathered a steal at midcourt and dunked as time expired to give the Jackrabbits a three-point cushion.
The Hawkeyes outscored the Jackrabbits 16-12 in the paint in the first half, but South Dakota State earned a 15-7 edge in points off turnovers.
“We fall asleep sometimes defensively. We fall asleep offensively as well,” said junior forward Ahmad Wagner. “We don’t cut as hard. We just can’t have those mental lapses if we want to be a great team and beat great teams as well.”
Iowa fell back on its three-quarter court press in the second half, and it pressured the Jackrabbits into a pair of shot clock violations. The Hawkeyes shot 63.6 percent after halftime and trailed by one point as late as the 5:48 mark in the second half. But South Dakota State pulled away by moving the ball and hitting its foul shots. The Jackrabbits shot 16-for-19 from the foul line.
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“I thought today we showed a lot of resolve and toughness. Especially on the glass,” said Jackrabbits Coach T.J. Otzelberger. “It was a very physical game out there and I thought our guys really rose to the challenge. I thought there was a great sense of togetherness and every possession mattered to us, it felt like. That made all the difference in the world.”
The Hawkeyes made a special effort to take the 3-point shot away from South Dakota State, but the Jackrabbits still managed to hit 10-of-20 from long range. McCaffery saw some improvement from his players, but he’s still hoping to see Iowa put together a complete game.
“I thought we played with great energy,” McCaffery said. “We’ve been talking about our defense and how we haven’t been as connected as we’ve needed to be. ... But we were not connected offensively today. We moved the ball. We executed some times, didn’t execute other times. When you’re behind, you have to execute every time you get the ball back. And you’ve got to be connected every time they got the ball back.”
Isaiah Moss scored 18 points on 8-for-16 shooting Tuesday, and Jack Nunge added 14 points on 5-for-5 shooting. Tyler Cook drew the toughest defensive assignment of the day and held Daum to 10 points and a 4-for-11 shooting night.
“That’s a tough dude to guard,” Cook said. “He’s so versatile. He can put it on the floor and he can definitely shoot it with anyone in the gym. He’s a smart player, too. He’s a veteran guy. Anytime you’re matched against a guy like that, you’ve got to be locked in. He got away from us a couple times and got some open looks. And he knocked them down, which we knew he was going to do.”
Iowa (3-2) still has one game left in the tournament against UAB (3-2) in Wednesday’s seventh-place game at 11 a.m. Iowa time. But now, with disappointing results in the rearview mirror and with the Big Ten Conference schedule quickly approaching, the Hawkeyes need to find a winning recipe.
“We’ve just got to know that when you lose, you’ve got to learn something,” Cook said. “You can’t just beat yourself up and that’s not what we’re going to do. We knew coming into the season we were going to face some ups and downs. Now, it’s about how we respond.”
“We’ve got another opportunity to get better (Wednesday),” sophomore Cordell Premsl said. “The games continue. We’ve got Virginia Tech after that. But we’re not looking in the distance long-term right now. We’re locked in on (Wednesday) and we’re locked in game by game. Our goal is to come out and play the way that we know we’re capable of playing together and getting a W.”