IOWA CITY, Ia. — If you thought the football game in Lincoln was a mood wrecker, you should have been in Carver-Hawkeye Arena Thursday night.
The gang that couldn’t shoot straight — allegedly — rolled in from Nebraska and shot the Hawkeyes out of just about any NCAA Tournament hopes they might have had when the day began.
You don’t want to be the team that gives Nebraska its first league road win as a member of the Big Ten Conference, but there it was on the scoreboard – Huskers 79, Hawkeyes 73.
Iowa is now 3-5 in the league with a trip to Indiana next on the docket. Fran McCaffery, the Iowa coach, did not cancel the rest of the season or reach for the nearest chair.
He knows the best thing his players can do now is put on their blinders, pay no attention to the bleak numbers staring back at them in the standings, practice hard and do their best to forge ahead.
For much of the game, Nebraska looked like a basketball team its football team could be proud of. And yet, if you don’t beat the Nebraskas of the Big Ten, you’ll have big trouble getting where you want to go.
McCaffery said anyone who follows the Huskers shouldn’t be surprised by the result:
“They lost their first three games without two of their best players. They are 3-3 since then. They have not gone away against anybody. Down 11 against Indiana late, come back to win the game. They play hard and they play well together.”
They did on this night, gradually working their way back into the game. As sharp as the Huskers looked during their comeback, the Hawkeyes did their best to make them look sharp, which left the 10,000 or so in attendance wondering why . . .
–So many loose balls and rebounds kept falling into Huskers’ hands.
–The Hawkeyes couldn’t get a defensive stop or force a turnover after one of their own scores.
–Two of the stars a year ago, Melsahn Basabe and Bryce Cartwright could give the Hawkeyes only three points.
–A Nebraska team that averages 52 points a game was able to pour in 48 in the second half alone.
–Iowa couldn’t get a hand in the face of Brandon Richardson, who missed only one of 10 field goal attempts and made 6 of 7 three-pointers. This is the same Brandon Richardson who came into the game having made 12 threes in 40 tries.
Matt Gatens, the only senior in Iowa’s starting lineup, did his best to explain the problem.
“You look at the guy’s percentages,” he said, “and you don’t expect him to be a 3-point shooter like that. But when he’s feeling it, he’s going to keep shooting. Tonight they kept going in and it really hurt us.”
Zach McCabe, who led Iowa with 20 points, said letting Richardson go off wasn’t just one single Hawkeye’s shortcoming. It was a team effort.
“When we’re up 11,” he said, “we’ve got to keep going, get it up to 15 and 20. That’s what we’re not doing.”
It’s still a little too early to start talking about next year, but it’s hard not to think about the future when you look on the floor and see so much youth leading the way.
When you see freshman Aaron White (11 points, 9 rebounds), sophomore McCabe (9-for-11 from the floor) and sophomore Devyn Marble (15 points), it’s hard not to think about tomorrow.
Watching them mesh, you sometimes catch yourself thinking of Jess Settles, Ryan Bowen and Andre Woolridge. The kids aren’t there yet, obviously. Maybe they’ll never arrive. But it isn’t a bad Big Ten foundation.
Losing to Nebraska has to be especially tough for a good soldier like Gatens, who has logged more minutes than any Hawkeye over the past three-plus years with nothing in the way of postseason glory to show for it.
“We can’t worry about that,” he said of Iowa’s NCAA Tournament prospects. “It’s a month and a half away and we have so many games between now and then. We could win them all. But the thing is, every game matters so much.”
Register sports columnist Marc Hansen can be reached at (515) 284-8534 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter.com/marcdmr.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball