Iowa won its second game this season with a surprisingly hard-fought 83-75 win against Nebraska-Omaha. Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. It’s too early to panic. Iowa delivered an uninspired effort against a better-than-expected squad. UNO crashed the boards for nine offensive rebounds in the first half and scored on seven of those possessions, totaling 15 second-chance points. On many of those second possessions, Iowa’s defensive effort waned. But the Hawkeyes recovered in the second half to outscore the Mavericks by 15 points and win by eight.
Iowa also committed 12 turnovers in the first half, which led to 16 UNO points. The Mavericks scored on a couple of slop shots (banks and fadeaways), but they still were the aggressor and led 43-36 at halftime.
“You normally are not down seven,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “Normally, you’re down 17. So they hit a a 3 late. They banked a couple of 3s in. We gave them some loose ball recovered that they laid in. Those kinds of plays, you know, demoralize a team when you’re trying to come back.
“So for us, I thought, while it was disappointing that it happened, I felt really good about our toughness to overcome it, because when it keeps happening you feel like, ‘OK, this just isn’t our day.’”
When the Hawkeyes needed to turn it on, they did in the second half. They were able to do it with multiple parts, often with reserves at key junctures. Forwards Jarrod Uthoff and Zach McCabe, along with point guard Anthony Clemmons, came off the bench to play key roles in igniting a comeback.
“It shows we’ve got great character,” Iowa junior Aaron White said. “The guys that finished the game weren’t the same five who started the game. It shows we’ve got a deep team. Anthony came in and played phenomenal. Jarrod played well. Zach played well.”
McCaffery is known for his red-faced sideline rants, but he doesn’t get enough credit for knowing what his team needs in order to compete. Instead of throwing chairs in the locker room at halftime, he simply had a conversation with his players.
“He knew how we were,” McCabe said. “We knew what we needed to do; that was the thing. He calmly came in and told us that you’ve just got to be smart, play our game and limit our turnovers. Play our offense and just be the aggressor.”
2. Concern is legitimate. Iowa continues to whiff from 3-point range. The Hawkeyes hit 3 of 14 3-pointers and are 7-of-26 so far this season. The team ranked 11th in Big Ten 3-point percentage last year and lost its top outside shooter Josh Oglesby to a broken foot. Freshman Peter Jok is a solid 3-point shooter, but he has hit just 2-of-8 so far.
Iowa did knock down two 3-pointers when it mattered: one by McCabe to bring Iowa within one point and the game’s most crucial shot from Clemmons to give Iowa its first lead in more than 25 minutes. Perimeter improvement is possible, but based off last year’s numbers, it’s a leap of faith to believe Iowa is capable of consistently making 35 percent from beyond the arc.
The Hawkeyes struggled with UNO’s quickness and penetration, which they need to get figured out pronto. Maybe it was just a lack of focus on defense, but every guard in the Big Ten from Minnesota’s Andre Hollins to Ohio State’s Aaron Craft will hurt the Hawkeyes if their on-ball defense isn’t much better. Iowa went to a zone defense early, but that also exposed some defensive liabilities.
“It was disappointing because we weren’t as sharp — we clearly weren’t as sharp as we were (Friday) night,” McCaffery said. “But our effectiveness and execution and overall commitment to defending side ball screen action was not what it needed to be for this team.
“So that was disappointing. But it was better later, substantially better.”
The real concern is Iowa had a sluggish beginning for the second straight week. They’ve picked up high praise this offseason as a team on the rise. That’s legitimate. But going through the motions against motivated low-major teams may get you beat. And with a rugged Big Ten slate, one “oops” could prove costly at season’s end. It could bump you down a line in NCAA bracketing or it could place you squarely on the tournament bubble.
“You can’t take any opponent for granted. That’s a big lesson you can learn from this game,” White said. “Everyone on our schedule is very capable of beating us if we don’t play the right way. Hopefully that opened some of our eyes (Sunday).”
3. Gesell fighting through struggles. Guard Mike Gesell has taken just three shots in Iowa’s two games. He played only 14 minutes against UNO and didn’t attempt a shot from the field. He scored one point, grabbed one rebound, dished one assist and had two turnovers. He sat out the final 15 minutes.
“I think his confidence, he’s struggling a little bit with that,” McCaffery said. “You know, I thought he was real tentative shooting the ball.
“I said, ‘Mike, I need you to be aggressive. Shoot the ball. Drive the ball. Take it to the rim. Shoot your pull-up.’ He’s got a great pull-up game.
“He was missing guys on the break. He was clearly tentative. So that’s why we took him out.”
One play in particular displayed Gesell’s tentativeness. Shortly before the second half’s first media timeout, Iowa trimmed its deficit to one point. The Hawkeyes set up a defensive trap just past the half-court line. As the ball skipped near mid-court, the steal was there for Gesell. Instead he sat back, and UNO’s Devin Patterson knocked down a jumper a few seconds later to extend the Mavericks’ lead to three points.
“I think that’s an example of his tentative nature right now,” McCaffery said. “When he’s playing Mike Gesell basketball, he steals it and goes down and dunks it. He’s this close. We’ll get him straightened out.”
©2013 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
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