The difference between the Iowa men’s basketball squads of this season and last was never more evident than late in the Hawkeyes’ last three games.
Picture last season’s Iowa team holding up at Indiana the way it did on Feb. 7, successfully executing three straight inbounds passes to reliable free throw shooter Jordan Bohannon late in the game to secure victory.
Or not only rallying from an 11-point deficit with 2:09 left against Northwestern, but perfectly running the play after a timeout with three seconds to go that set up Bohannon sinking the game-winning 3-pointer.
Or being able to go coast-to-coast with 3.2 seconds remaining for as much as a prayer of a shot attempt at Rutgers, which Iowa got when Joe Wieskamp’s corner 3-pointer caromed into the basket for a game-winner.
That comes from a smarter, more-instinctive team than the one of last season.
“What you’re seeing now,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Monday, “is a mature, resilient team that has had some success, had some failure. They’ve been through it.
“You add some pieces (Wieskamp and redshirt freshman guard Connor McCaffery), you have a complete buy-in, and you have a chance. That’s what you need in this league.”
Maturity and resilience will be required Tuesday night when the 19th-ranked Hawkeyes (9-5 Big Ten, 20-5 overall) play No. 25 Maryland (10-5, 19-7) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa must descend from the clouds of a last-second win for the second-straight time and deal with a Terrapins team loaded with talent.
“You get into February,” McCaffery said, “and you have to be able to process a scouting report, execute to the best of your ability, win or lose learn from it, and then go to the next one. Anything short of that and you’re going to have losing streaks.”
Five of Maryland’s top eight players are freshmen. But the two leaders, point guard Anthony Cowan and center Bruno Fernando, are not.
Fernando and freshman forward Jalen Smith are 6-foot-10 forces. Fernando not only averages 14.5 points, but leads the Big Ten in field goal percentage, is second in rebounding (10.6 per game), and third in blocked shots. Smith, a 2018 McDonald’s All American, averages 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds.
“The bottom line is our guys know and understand the quality of the team coming in here on Tuesday night,” said McCaffery, “and they had a full appreciation of the team we played on Saturday.”
Wieskamp wrested Bohannon’s mantle as Iowa’s Man of the Hour Saturday in the 71-69 win at Rutgers. But two of his teammates may not have gotten the plaudits they deserved on that play and in the game.
Senior forward Nicholas Baer, who had been in concussion protocol last week, got enough of the long inbounds pass thrown by Connor McCaffery to send it in the direction of Wieskamp and Isaiah Moss in the left corner. Baer hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first half.
Junior guard Moss screeched to a halt instead of colliding with Wieskamp in going for the ball. Moss had 12 of his 17 points in the first half to help keep the Hawkeyes trailing by just 33-32 at halftime when their other starters hadn’t scored much.
“That’s the kind of team we have,” McCaffery said.
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