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Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon says he knows it’s coming, and he didn’t handle it well against Virginia Tech. Mark Emmert/Hawk Central

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BLACKSBURG, Va. — There’s no way to sugarcoat Tuesday’s 79-55 loss for the Iowa men’s basketball team.

A Hawkeye squad that had seemed to learn how to win in tough environments last season, that spent the summer bonding during a European exhibition tour, that appeared to have aged out of abysmal performances, suddenly reverted to last year’s early-season form.

In the opening minutes of the second half against Virginia Tech, the Hawkeyes kept missing shots, an unbelievable 17 in a row. The Hokies were happy to get out and run and turn those into points. A tie score at halftime inexorably became a 27-point Virginia Tech lead at Cassell Coliseum.

What happened?

“We got a little ‘3-happy’ there, instead of trying to get it inside a little bit more, driving the ball a little bit more, keeping them on defense a little more, try to chip away at it. There was still 15 ½ minutes to go. It wasn’t time to panic,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Virginia Tech’s 50-40 lead.

“I think we have a good shooting team. You wouldn’t have noticed that (Tuesday). But I think whether you’re making 3s or not, you have to have a mixture of penetration, post-ups and perimeter shooting, and we didn’t have that.”

The Hawkeyes made only one of 12 3-pointers in the second half. The poor shooting led to porous defense. Iowa appeared to become demoralized.

“Our offense shouldn’t dictate how we play the rest of the game. They beat us to a lot of 50-50 balls. Their energy was better,” Iowa forward Tyler Cook said.

Cordell Pemsl, another sophomore forward who got plenty of experience in last year’s 19-15 season, concurred.

“Once they get that rebound, if you’re not sprinting back, it’s a layup. And they beat us in a track meet,” Pemsl said.

“We need to be aggressive from the start of the game and we need to set the tone and not let teams come out and walk all over us.”

The Hawkeyes fell to 4-3, but have lost three of their past four since leaving Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Last year, Iowa started the season 3-5, but that was with a freshman-heavy roster. The lessons learned then should not need to be re-learned.

“I think that’s a place where we need to grow is, when we do have it tied, we can’t let them come out strong” in the second half, said junior forward Nicholas Baer. “I think we do have enough experienced guys back to be able to make a run in road games, especially when things aren’t going our way.”

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Iowa coach Fran McCaffery says his team got “3-happy” when it fell behind Monday, Nov. 28 against Virginia Tech. Mark Emmert/Hawk Central

A rusty Baer

It was Baer’s first game of the season after recovering from a broken left pinky. That digit was taped up, but his shooting was off. He finished 2-of-9 from the floor for five points in 22 minutes.

“I didn’t really have a chance to get my shots up as I usually do,” Baer said of his recuperation. “My shot’s definitely a little flat right now. That was evident.”

Baer played both wing spots for Iowa, which is short of guards and could use him to help bring the ball up court. He said he is at his best conditioning-wise, because cardiovascular exercise was all he could do for the past month.

The Hawkeyes will be relying on Baer more than ever with Big Ten Conference play beginning Saturday against Penn State.

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Hawkeye forward Cordell Pemsl says the team needs to learn to impose its will. Mark Emmert/Hawk Central

Hall full, half empty

Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon scored all 12 of his points in the first half, going 4-of-4 from the 3-point arc. He missed each of his six shots in the second half, and wasn’t pleased with his performance.

The Hokies, as teams will do all season, were aggressive about picking up Bohannon in the backcourt, switched defenders on him liberally and face-guarded him in the frontcourt. The only point guard on the Hawkeye roster played 36 rugged minutes, which is becoming his norm.

“The way I shot it I would probably agree with you,” Bohannon said when asked if the Virginia Tech defensive strategy worked.

“But there were still some shots I feel like I should have made and I should have made a little more smarter decisions with the ball, and I wish I would have penetrated a little more.”

Bohannon can sense that opponents are keying on him in an effort to slow Iowa’s transition game. It certainly was the case Tuesday. He blamed himself for not pushing the ball more, and for not getting enough entry passes to Cook, who had a game-high 16 points but only took 10 shots.

A quiet Moss

Sophomore guard Isaiah Moss entered the game as Iowa’s leading scorer at 15.8 points per game. He found out what it’s like to be at the top of an opponent’s scouting report.

Moss scored the first basket of the game on a backdoor cut with 2 seconds left on the shot clock.

He never scored again, going 1-for-6 from the field in 22 minutes, with four turnovers.

“They were into him pretty good,” McCaffery said of Moss. “I thought he started pressing a little bit. He knows he’s a good shooter. He knows he’s a good player. He makes that big-time move at the beginning of the game, you figure he’s going to get it going. He never did.”

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Is it still early?

Iowa players were keeping calm about a third loss in four games, which is an appropriate response. It’s certainly not a cause for panic.

But it was also a little odd to hear them reiterating how early it is in the season. Seven games represents nearly one-fourth of a college basketball campaign. Conference play arrives this weekend. After games vs. the Nittany Lions and at Indiana, the Hawkeyes travel to Ames for the annual in-state rivalry game with a surging Iowa State team.

This is the stretch of the schedule that begins to define a season, and it’s off to a rocky start. Iowa’s best win so far is against Alabama-Birmingham. It’s a resume that could use a little padding.

“There really isn’t an urgency. We’re early in the season,” Pemsl said in a common response. “I know that these guys can perform. We’ve got a lot of talent on this team. I think we need to bring it together sooner than later.

“Those games (against Big Ten opponents) are definitely ones that we want to get, and I think that we’re going to prepare the right way.”

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