IOWA CITY — It took until 10:58 to go in the game, but whatever daze the Iowa men’s basketball team was in finally cleared.
The Hawkeyes (3-0) were down, 59-56, to Grambling State — a Tigers team that entered the game ranked 346th out of 351 teams in the KenPom rankings. They had surrendered the lead for the first time in a second half this young season, and had given up nearly 1.1 points per possession.
The timeout head coach Fran McCaffery called after Grambling State’s Anthony Gaston hit the 3-pointer to give his team the lead wasn’t really a loud one. It was almost expected for McCaffery to let his team have it. Instead, he said the idea was to “focus on what we are doing and not scream and yell about what we are not doing.”
Ahmad Wagner, Tyler Cook and Jordan Bohannon all spoke up too, according to Isaiah Moss and Luka Garza.
Their message of coming together on defense — to that point a significant struggle against a team that came in shooting a 39.7 effective field goal percentage — and whatever changes McCaffery made clicked. Iowa went on a 14-0 run and ultimately won, 85-74.
“Maybe,” McCaffery said, it took the Hawkeyes longer than it should’ve to realize what was going on. But there were plenty of teachable moments.
“It’s really no different than any other game,” McCaffery said. “You want to go in and scream and yell about what we didn’t do, or do you want to point out what we didn’t do and what we did do? We made some glaring mistakes down the stretch and still made up for it with activity, and we also executed really well at times.
“Our activity level was pretty good, but it wasn’t what it needed to be.”
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McCaffery, Moss, Garza and Jordan Bohannon all rightly gave Grambling State credit for being “a team that was ready.” The Tigers shot 42.6 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from 3-point range, including 10 made 3-pointers. They forced nine first-half Hawkeye turnovers, scoring 21 points off those.
But ultimately, Iowa had to look in the mirror when it game to what was lacking defensively. The Hawkeyes talk a lot about being connected — or, like Thursday night, not being connected — and how that’s where most of the problems start.
If it sounds like the start of last year all over again, Bohannon acknowledged it is in a way. Even with just adding Garza and Jack Nunge, the rotations are still a little different, and — he made a point to say it wasn’t an excuse — Bohannon said, “we’re all getting adjusted to the lineups coach is having us play in.”
Whatever needed to click to win Thursday, it clicked. But Iowa knows it needs to be better.
“I think we haven’t even gotten close to our potential,” Garza said. “We’re making a lot of mistakes. I think it’s good to work them out early. I know for sure I’m going to step up and make sure that we can be a better defensive team going forward into the next couple games.
“Coaches are going to keep getting on us. We’re going to keep watching film. We’re going to become a great defensive team. This team is full of hard workers We want to be great. We want to win. To do that, our only option is to play defense.”
MCCAFFERY OUT WITH MONO
Freshman guard Connor McCaffery’s official Iowa debut will have to wait a little longer.
After looking like he’d make his return from missing the first two games of the season with an ankle injury, the son of head coach Fran McCaffery was diagnosed Wednesday with mononucleosis. A sickness that’s famous for its fatigue is expected to sideline Connor for 2-3 weeks, Fran said.
Connor had been tested for it earlier this week, but found out midway through practice Wednesday he had mono — after meeting with media and saying he looked good to play against Grambling State. The diagnosis obviously forced the change in plans.
“He’s really sick — swollen (in his glands), can’t swallow; has ear aches, so I feel bad for him,” Fran McCaffery said. “He would’ve played (Thursday) on the ankle, but he probably wouldn’t have been 100 percent.
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“Typically it’s three weeks for mono. He’s one week in — of course we didn’t know it. So you’re two weeks, but he’s going to be exhausted and we’ve got to get him back in shape, so we’re probably looking at three weeks.”
Connor’s absence means Brady Ellingson will continue to handle the backup point guard duties, and leaves Iowa’s backcourt depth stretched just a little thin — putting more on Bohannon and Moss to shoulder the load among the guards.
McCaffery didn’t seemed concerned, though, as the Hawkeyes had to the Cayman Island Classic next week.
“We’ve got to go with what we’ve got,” Fran McCaffery said. “I thought Brady has been really good. Tonight he was just OK, but he made some nice passes in the first half, a couple back-cut layups. He was solid. I thought Maishe (Dailey) was good. I went with Isaiah down the stretch (because) I thought he earned that.
“We’ve got plenty of guys back there.”
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