IOWA CITY — Iowa basketball remains a work in progress from the $47 million project outside Carver-Hawkeye Arena to the Fran McCaffery debut inside of it on Sunday.
The Hawkeyes tried to play McCaffery's up-tempo offense and at times did so successfully in their season opener. But too often that offense stalled with poor execution, sloppy ball-handling and weak transition defense in a 79-69 loss to South Dakota State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Three of Iowa's first five possessions ended with a point guard whistled for a traveling call. South Dakota State outscored Iowa 10-0 in the first half's final four minutes. By halftime, Iowa trailed by nine and had 14 turnovers.
"It wasn't at the end where we lost it; it was at the beginning," Iowa senior center Jarryd Cole said. "We gave away, what, six turnovers early? Just crazy turnovers, walking, things like that. Those come back to haunt you, definitely."
"It was the first game, and people needed to stay composed the whole time," Iowa sophomore guard/forward Eric May said. "Some people kind of got ... their minds went crazy, weren't focusing on set plays or even focusing on defense."
Iowa rallied in the second half and took the lead three times. May, who led Iowa in scoring with 20 points, drilled a 3-pointer to lift the Hawkeyes to a 41-40 lead with 14 minutes, 41 seconds left. Devyn Marble hit a 3-pointer to give Iowa a 49-47 edge, then followed by Melsahn Basabe's two free throws to lead 51-50.
Then it unraveled for the Hawkeyes. On defense, they had trouble identifying shooters and left them wide open. Iowa missed six of 14 free throws down the stretch and pressed to make something happen, even when patience was the proper action.
"We were rushing shots trying to get back," May said. "We got out of control and Coach goes, 'There's no nine-point plays. You've got to go down and get a good shot and keep chopping away at it. Us rushing led to us getting turnovers and them getting run-outs."
Iowa's Cully Payne led a two-on-one fast break with the Hawkeyes trailing 64-62. Instead of driving the ball and forcing the defender to make a choice, Payne made a behind-the-back pass to Melsahn Basabe, who missed the layup when the defender got back in position.
The play infuriated McCaffery, who benched Payne for more than five minutes. Payne re-entered the game with 1:31 left and Iowa trailing 75-67.
"It wasn't positive," McCaffery said about his reaction. "You know, I think in that situation, two-on-one, you take the ball to the basket, make somebody play you, you kick it off. I think he felt like he could make that play. It was a decent pass, but the defender hadn't committed one way or the other. So now he's on Melsahn. Melsahn fumbles a little bit, doesn't make the layup.
"We've got to be able to convert in a two-on-one in that situation. Two-on-one, score the ball."
Iowa finished with 18 turnovers and hit only 40.7 percent of its shots. South Dakota State (2-0) hit 10 3-pointers and had 11 steals.
Jackrabbits guard Nate Wolters scored 25 points, hit three 3-pointers and had nine assists.The loss marked a tough opener for McCaffery, who became the first Iowa coach since Dick Schultz (1970) to lose his debut. Iowa junior guard Matt Gatens saw his streak of 64 straight starts end. Gatens, who had surgery to repair a torn tendon in his left hand on Oct. 28, will not play Tuesday against Louisiana-Monroe, McCaffery said.