BLACKSBURG, Va. — It would be hard not to let what happened Tuesday night at Virginia Tech get into the minds of the Iowa men’s basketball team.
Through 20 minutes of basketball on Tuesday night at Cassell Coliseum, the Hawkeyes appeared to have righted the ship on more than one issue it dealt with during the Cayman Islands Classic.
Iowa handled mixed defenses from the Virginia Tech with patience. The Hawkeyes crashed the offensive boards and created second-chance points. They looked the best they had all season on defense, especially in help defense. Jordan Bohannon hit four first-half 3-pointers. Tyler Cook had a mystifying left-handed dunk, dribbling through two defenders.
Iowa (4-3) followed all that up with eight points in the first 15:06 of the second half. No one but Cook scored until Maishe Dailey’s layup with 4:54 to go. The Hawkeyes shot 7 of 37 overall and 1 of 12 from 3-point range in the second half.
The Hokies (6-1) turned a 38-38 tie at halftime into a 79-55 drubbing of its Big Ten/ACC Challenge opponent, and sent the Hawkeyes back to Iowa City with three losses in four games.
“I think it was all mental, to be honest,” said forward Cordell Pemsl, who had six points, 14 rebounds and six assists. “We were pretty positive at halftime. We were ready to come out and do what we needed to do. A few shots missed for us, we started mentally — just like in the Cayman Islands, to be honest — it took us out of the game offensively and defensively.
“I think it’s something we all need to work on. We all need to be able to take a punch and get back up. Right now when we get hit, we stay down. Our mindset needs to be that we need to be the aggressor from the start of the game and set the tone, and not let teams come in and walk all over us.”
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Pemsl, the other Iowa players and Coach Fran McCaffery all pointed to the success of the first half as evidence of “what we can be,” but the Hawkeyes have been more of what they were in the second half over the last four games.
In two of the last three losses, Iowa has surrendered a run to its opponents offensively that could qualify as an onslaught. Against Virginia Tech, Iowa gave up a 15-0 run in the second half that effectively put the game out of reach. Against Louisiana in the Caymans opener, it was a 20-0 run in the first half that did it.
The Hawkeyes have aimed to be a team that creates offense in transition by getting stops, rebounds or turnovers. Instead, the opposite has been true.
Forward Nicholas Baer said he thinks “that’s true of any team, when you’re playing better offensively, you’re going to be more intense defensively.”
Baer, Pemsl, Cook and Bohannon all echoed their coach after he said the following:
“When you’re struggling offensively like that, you really need to ratchet your defense up and get stops, and we didn’t do that,” McCaffery said. “I thought in the first half, our attention to detail was really good. I thought we were getting done what we wanted to get done, with a few exceptions. In the second half, that just didn’t happen.
“I hope it doesn’t continue.”
The two halves could scarcely have been different for Iowa, and not being able to shore up defensively when the offense sputtered was the biggest reason why, the players said.
The Hawkeyes shot 51.7 percent in the opening frame and out-rebounded the Hokies 22-12. They had eight turnovers, but compensated for that with 11 second-chance points on six offensive rebounds. Iowa held Virginia Tech’s leading scorer, Justin Bibbs (21.3 points per game coming in) to three first-half points, one rebound and one assist on 1 of 6 shooting, thanks in large part to effective closeouts on shots from the corner. Bibbs finished with 14 points, while the Hokies had 36 points in the paint and forced 14 Iowa turnovers.
Bohannon was hard on himself after the game, citing a lack of feeding the ball inside as much as he should’ve and not handling the Virginia Tech pressure better. He finished with those 12 points from the first half, going 0 of 6 overall and 0 of 4 from 3 in the second half. Cook finished with 16 points and nine rebounds on 6 of 10 shooting.
No one else reached double digits for Iowa.
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A common theme for the Hawkeyes in these losses has been a lack of being connected. Multiple players used that phrase again Tuesday night, but there isn’t yet a tangible reason why it’s been a consistent thing regardless of opponent.
Whether or not this is an issue that will weigh on the Hawkeyes going forward, they said the right things after yet another loss.
“We can’t be mad at anyone but ourselves,” Cook said. “We’ve got to stop it from getting to that point.
“We’ve just got to be tougher and be connected at times when stuff isn’t going our way. To a man, everybody has to have a better mentality in terms of being locked in and not letting those moments get away from us.”
The third loss in four games comes ahead of Iowa’s Big Ten Conference opener on Saturday. The Hawkeyes host Penn State at 4 p.m. in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
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