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Hawks hope to rack up nonconference victories

[ 0 ] November 30, 2012 |

Making the NCAA Tournament is the next step in Fran McCaffery’s quest to rebuild the Iowa men’s basketball program.

It figures to be a daunting task this season with the Big Ten considered by many the strongest and deepest conference in the country.

So with victories possibly hard to come by in conference play, the pressure to win nonconference games such as today’s matchup against 1-4 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi becomes more evident.

Iowa (5-2) already has two losses and trailed Gardner-Webb by 20 points at halftime before storming back in the second half to win 65-56 on Nov. 17 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

McCaffery thinks Iowa’s poor performance in the first half against Gardner-Webb might have been caused by his players pressing to win nonconference games.

“It certainly seemed like we were doing exactly that in the first half of the Gardner-Webb game,” McCaffery said. “People now realize that they were a better team than maybe people thought. They’ve proven that.

“But that was as poorly as we’ve played for 20 minutes in terms of scoring the ball since I’ve been here. We just struggled to get it in the basket whether it was an outside shot, a drive, a layup, and it just snow-balled on us. Fortunately, we were able to come back in the second half.”

That wasn’t the case in Iowa’s last game when Virginia Tech doubled its eight-point lead at halftime while cruising to a 95-79 victory Tuesday in Blacksburg, Va.

It was Iowa’s second consecutive loss, with Wichita State defeating the Hawkeyes 75-63 in the championship game of the Cancun Challenge on Nov. 17 in Cancun, Mexico.

Iowa freshman point guard Mike Gesell struggled in both losses, combining to score seven points on 2-of-10 shooting from the field. Gesell also had five turnovers and two assists in the last two games.

“We’ve just got to learn from them, two tough losses, games that we thought we could have won,” Gesell said.

Iowa has six games nonconference games left to play, including the matchup with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Hawkeyes should be heavily favored in four of the six games, with games against Iowa State and Northern Iowa being the exceptions.

Improving on defense was a priority heading into the season, and there were signs of it happening until Wichita State outscored Iowa 42-28 in the second half. The defensive lapses carried over to the Virginia Tech game as the Hokies scored 46 points in the first half and 49 in the second half.

“We’ve got to get stops,” Gesell said. “Especially in that Virginia Tech game, we can’t give up that many points. We still scored almost 80 points and still almost got blown out.”

Shooting also has been a season-long problem with Iowa making fewer than 50 percent of its field-goal attempts in all seven games, including just 26.1 percent against Wichita State. Help could be on the way, though, considering sophomore guard Josh Oglesby combined to make seven 3-point baskets in the last two games after being mired in a shooting slump.

“It’s hard to be consistent, especially game-to-game with how they guard you,” Oglesby said. “It’s different game plans each day.”

Today’s game will be the first meeting between Iowa and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Islanders are a member of the Southland Conference and are coming off an 80-68 loss at Toledo on Wednesday.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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