IOWA CITY — The familiar pattern returned for the Iowa men’s basketball team on Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Down 8-6 at the first media timeout to No. 3 Purdue, Iowa had started the game playing some effective man-to-man defense. After that timeout, the Boilermakers (19-2, 8-0 Big Ten) outscored the Hawkeyes (10-11, 1-7) 43-14 the rest of the way to halftime. A waterfall of 3-pointers from Purdue — a Big Ten single-game record 20, in total — later, and Iowa left with an 87-64 loss that could’ve been much worse, given it faced a 37-point deficit early in the second half.
Head coach Fran McCaffery oscillated between his signature fiery approach and a calm, questioning one in timeout huddles. Neither method seemed to offer a significant difference in terms of the outcome on the floor on a day in which Iowa honored the 25th anniversary of the death of its most iconic and symbolic player, Chris Street.
McCaffery was asked after the game if he believes the messages he and his staff are sending to players are sinking in — both in game and in practice.
“Yeah,” McCaffery said.
When asked why he believes that:
“Because I’m seeing change,” McCaffery said.
Later, McCaffery clarified what he meant, in highlighting how Luka Garza, Nicholas Baer, Dom Uhl and Brady Ellingson played. He acknowledged that in looking for tangible change collectively, “you wouldn’t notice that today,” but did his best to find productivity and positivity.
Garza had 19 points on 8 of 10 shooting while missing a big chunk of time with a badly-bleeding nose following inadvertent contact with Purdue’s Isaac Haas. Baer had six points, seven rebounds — five offensive — and no turnovers. Uhl equaled his highest minutes-played this year, with eight and had two points and two rebounds. Ellingson had nine points, most of which came in the late stages of the game.
But none of those positives were close enough to outweigh what the Boilermakers were able to do.
An onslaught of open 3-pointers came from consistently quick ball movement, high ball screens and set plays. Purdue started 15 of 20 from deep and finished 20 of 33, en route to that Big Ten and Carver-Hawkeye Arena record.
“We got outplayed by a really good team,” McCaffery said.
In Iowa’s losses, the theme of allowing a big run by the opponent while not being able to answer has been consistent. Why that is, and why in-game adjustments have only worked at Illinois so far still is a question to which the Hawkeyes are searching for an answer.
“That’s kind of hard to answer that,” forward Tyler Cook said, when asked if the coaches’ messages are sinking in. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to go out and compete and try to play harder.
“They were the better team today. We lost. They came in and shot the lights out and were aggressive defensively. We didn’t match that intensity, so they got us today.”
The Hawkeyes have had their effort and desire called into question at several points during the most recent run of losses. While wanting to win and wanting to play has never been affected, several players acknowledged that body language changes have been noticeable, and are an area in which they can and need to improve.
Responding to adversity in the middle of a game is far easier said than done at the level at which the Hawkeyes play. And while they can say the right words about staying positive with each other and encouraging each other, guard Jordan Bohannon acknowledged the obvious that, “it’s hard when a team makes 20 3s against you.”
McCaffery said he believed the effort was there for Iowa on Saturday, “especially at the beginning.”
Even if that premise is accepted, the rest of the first half and much of the second half operated as another trip down a road well-traveled for the Hawkeyes this season.
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“You’re going to have low points in life, and as a basketball team, I guess you could say this is one of them,” Bohannon said. “As much as we want to get upset with each other and upset with us individually, the sun rises the next day. You can take that for what it’s worth, I guess, but we have to keep working.”
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