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IOWA CITY, Ia. – Connor McCaffery’s first college basketball game ended with him gasping for air.

“It was probably good to push me a little bit,” McCaffery said after he ended up wheezing in front of his bench at the tail end of a 17-minute performance Sunday.

McCaffery’s Hawkeyes beat Southern 91-60 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

It was his father, Fran, who pushed Connor.

McCaffery’s college debut saw him make his lone 3-pointer, a pair of free throws and end up with five points, four assists, three defensive rebounds and one turnover.

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After being sidelined for 10 games with an ankle injury and then mononucleosis, McCaffery was just happy to finally join his teammates on the court in a game that counted.

“Coming in, hearing my name announced for the first time, that was a good feeling,” said the 6-foot-5 rookie from Iowa City West. “I’d been wanting to play for so long. Finally practicing, finally playing, it was special.”

McCaffery showed a steadiness at the point guard that could serve Iowa well. The Hawkeyes have been struggling in the back court and sport a 5-6 record after Sunday’s win.

Still, it's premature to view McCaffery as the answer in a thin Hawkeye backcourt. Southern is a subpar team, so it  will be interesting to see what he does when the opposition improves.

He said he is working to develop strength in his hamstring and quadricep muscles after mono sapped him of his strength. McCaffery said he’s only been able to participate in three practices.

“It’s just the firing of the muscles, the strength that comes with that, and hopefully it will build back up fast,” McCaffery said.

Fran McCaffery said he didn’t expect his son to log 17 minutes after weeks away from the team.

“He played the way I know he can play, the way he knows he can play,” Fran McCaffery said. “Physically he’s still a long way away. He’s really gassed. He doesn’t have his legs underneath him.”

McCaffery could protect his son in a zone defense for much of Saturday. Look for more of that when Iowa hosts Drake at 1 p.m. Saturday in Des Moines.

Dailey rises again

It was Maishe Dailey who helped turn the tide Sunday. Iowa was trailing 23-17 in a sleepy game at Carver-Hawkeye when the sophomore guard hit a 3-pointer. Then another.

Dailey, a little-used reserve last year, then fed Nicholas Baer for the 3-pointer to give the Hawkeyes the lead for good.

Dailey said he’d been telling himself to shoot, in order to keep his confidence up. He was averaging 4.8 points on 38.5-percent shooting.

“He just kept plugging,” McCaffery said of Dailey, a sophomore who was little-used last year. ”He’s not a complainer. He doesn’t mope. He knew he had a lot to learn and he was trying to learn it and get better.”

Dailey ended up with nine points, four rebounds and two assists in 21 minutes.

Protecting the ball

Iowa had committed 18 turnovers in each of the last three games. Ball-handling was a focal part of the Hawkeyes’ practice sessions leading into Sunday’s game.

The Hawkeyes committed just one of their seven turnovers after intermission to snap a four-game losing streak. Guards Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss, Dailey, Brady Ellingson and McCaffrey combined for 14 assists and one turnover.

That will work.

Moss keeps shooting

Moss, a sophomore coming off a four-point performance in Thursday’s loss at Iowa State, showed no hesitation to shoot.

Moss made the first two Iowa baskets at Ames, but never scored again.

On Sunday, he again made the first two Hawkeye shots — both 3-pointers — but proceeded to sink two more in the second half for 12 points.

“Staying confident is a big thing for me, make or miss,” Moss said after going 4-for-9 from the 3-point arc. “I‘m just staying confident throughout the two whole  games. Some of those shots are just open. They all felt good.”

Moss said he needed a strong performance in order to forget about what happened in Ames.

“I thought  he was really good today. I thought he was where he was supposed to be," McCaffery said of Moss. "He was moving the ball, He shot it when he was open. His effort level was good.".

Losing control

Iowa sophomore Tyler Cook made a powerful statement early in the second half. The Hawkeyes forward took a pass and bulled his way to the middle of the lane for a dunk.

Cook then barked at a Southern defender and was whistled for a technical foul.

McCaffery said he had no excuse for his power forward, whom he pulled to the bench. McCaffery left no doubt that he was unhappy with Cook's antics, in a game Iowa led by 20 points.

 “Not when he’s got three fouls, no I’m not,” McCaffery said when asked if he was OK with Cook's exuberance.

 

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