2019 NCAA TOURNAMENT

Inside the Iowa men's basketball (almost) comeback of the ages

Down 21 at half, Hawkeyes waved no white flags in OT NCAA loss to Tennessee

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Iowa almost made NCAA men’s basketball tournament history, as well as its Sweet 16.

The Hawkeyes nearly became the second team to come from 25 points behind to win a game in this event. BYU did that against Iona in 2012. Iowa never led Sunday in Nationwide Arena, but rallied to tie the contest and send it to overtime before falling to fifth-ranked Tennessee, 83-77.

The Hawkeyes trailed 44-19 with 4:22 left in the first half on their way to oblivion. Or so it seemed. That assumption remained firmly in place at halftime when the score was 49-28.

Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery gave his players intermission instructions sans halftime histrionics.

“I think Coach was a lot more calm than he was earlier in the year at halftime just because he’s seen us come back so many times,” Hawkeyes center Ryan Kriener said.

Yes, but the comeback needed this day was so much more than was needed in Iowa’s rallies for home wins against Indiana and Northwestern, and in Friday’s NCAA first-round triumph over Cincinnati when the Hawkeyes erased an early 13-point deficit.

“The locker room was really together,” McCaffery said. “We (coaches) came in with a plan. Not screaming and yelling. They needed confidence and a plan. They needed to know and understand what the plan was, and then go out and execute it, which they did to perfection.”

“He was really calm,” Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon said. “Just trying to keep our composure. I thought that was really good for us. We needed that because some of us were panicking a little bit in the first half.”

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In the first half, the Hawkeyes looked like a team that had lost four of its previous seven games by 14 to 21 points. In the second half, they looked like a team that belonged in this battle for a Sweet 16 berth.

Iowa junior forward Tyler Cook had a dreadful first half. He was scoreless, missing all five of his field goal tries and his only free throw.

“I just felt like I let myself and the team down in the first half,” Cook said. “I didn’t have the energy I needed to have. Wasn’t aggressive enough. I just wasn’t being who Tyler Cook is.”

Cook scored Iowa’s first nine points of the second half, attacking and serving notice his team would wave no white flags.

“I knew if I was going to struggle,” Cook said, “at least I was going to play my ass off. I came out in the second half and tried to do that. I still feel I didn’t make enough plays, but I played with heart in the second half.”

As did his teammates. It wasn’t a win, but it was 20 minutes of basketball that should enter some sort of time capsule for great tries. The Hawkeyes went from allowing 51.4 percent shooting in the first half to 33.3 in the second. They forced 11 turnovers in the half, grabbed eight offensive rebounds, scored 20 points in the paint while allowing just 8.

“We came out in the second half and said we’re gonna push this (down) to 10 at the next media timeout,” Bohannon said. “We got it within 12. When we got within 12 we said we’re going to get it to single-digits next media timeout. We got it to single-digits and we just kept chipping away.”

“We just played harder,” Cook said. “That’s literally it.”

But games are 40 minutes, or in this case, 45. Iowa had the 20 great minutes. Tennessee had 20, plus the overtime.

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“That’s what hurts the most, how hard we fought to get to a tie game,” Bohannon said. “It just sucks.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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