LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — This isn’t likely the first place Fran McCaffery would choose given options of where to spend his future Thanksgiving weekends.
Even though his Iowa Hawkeyes managed to finally put together nearly 40 minutes of solid basketball at the AdvoCare Invitational on Sunday, winning the seventh-place game isn’t quite what McCaffery and his crew had in mind.
McCaffery did, however, avoid becoming the only 0-6 coach in the history of the 10-year tournament. His Siena team took eighth place in 2008.
It was a tough weekend for the Hawkeyes, who struggled to find consistency both on offense and defense before putting things together in an 84-62 rout of depleted Wichita State on Sunday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
The performance gave the sixth-year Hawkeyes coach glimpses of how he had envisioned his veteran team playing this past weekend. Dropping its first two games was not part of that picture, but he said there was plenty to be taken away from the three-game event.
“You learn a lot about the toughness of your team and kind of where we are,” McCaffery said. “We played three really good teams (Daytona, Notre Dame, Wichita State), three really well-coached teams with three relatively short preps.”
Sunday the Hawkeyes came out ready to play. Thanks to offensive play by Jarrod Uthoff and Adam Woodbury, as well as defensive efforts on Wichita State standout Ron Baker by the Hawks’ Sapp Clemmons and Mike Gesell, Iowa bolted out to a 40-21 halftime lead.
Uthoff finally found his mark, hitting 9-of-15 shots to take game honors with 22 points. Woodbury had 15 points and seven rebounds, Gesell scored 14 points and had nine assists, and Peter Jok had 12 points.
Iowa had a defensive lapse that allowed WSU to go on an 18-2 run, but when a team leads by 31 points in the second half, it’s difficult to keep the foot on the accelerator. Baker came in averaging 21 points a game, but Iowa held him to 8 Sunday. The Hawkeyes also out-rebounded WSU 38-30.
“We certainly put two pretty good halves, defensively, together and I was really impressed with that,” McCaffery said. “I thought we moved the ball. We took care of the ball. They got a few offensive rebounds in the second half in that one stretch. You can’t let [WSU] dominate the glass … so I thought we did a great job on the glass.”
The stretch the coach was referring to saw WSU pull to within 13 points at 66-53 with 6:53 left in the game, but Jok stopped the bloodletting, Nicholas Baer hit two 3-pointers and Iowa was coasting again with an 81-55 lead at the three-minute mark.
“We executed our offense, we got good shot opportunities and nobody panicked,” McCaffery said of protecting the big lead. “We made enough shots, with the lead we had, to win the game.
“We have veterans. … They’re not going to wilt. … I was really happy with how our guys withstood the run.”
The weekend at Disney World gives McCaffery an idea of what his team needs to do to make progress heading into the Big Ten portion of the schedule. The Hawks, who host Florida State on Wednesday night, have six nonconference games remaining before Big Ten play starts at home Dec. 29 against Michigan State.
Point guard Gesell said that even though the Hawks have a senior-laden group of leaders, they can still learn from the tournament.
“I think we learn what we need to do to win,” Gesell said. “We played three very good teams and that’s what we want to do. We want to play the best competition anytime of the year. That’s where you get better and that’s where you learn stuff about your team.
“I’m very proud of my teammates, losing two tough ones and then coming out and beating a very good Wichita State team.”
Woodbury had a great tourney, showing improvement in each game. He had 14 points and 10 rebounds in the loss to Notre Dame and McCaffery said he has the ability to be a potential double-double contributor. Woodbury said he still sees room to improve.
“A few of the turnovers today I’d like to have back, of course, and I made some mistakes down the stretch I’d obviously like to have back, but I just try to play my game,” Woodbury said. “I’m trying to do everything I can to help our team win and be successful. That’s what I’ve tried to do over the four years of my career, so anytime we win it’s a good game for me.”