His team took a step backward vs. Michigan, the Iowa coach admits. Matthew Bain/HawkCentral
IOWA CITY, Ia. — At some point in Tuesday’s Big Ten Conference basketball game here, even the scoreboard operator was expecting Michigan to convert every trip down the Carver-Hawkeye Arena floor.
And even he was not immune from the ire of Iowa coach Fran McCaffery after incorrectly giving Michigan two first-half points that the Hawkeyes had earned.
Instead of 48-34 Michigan, the arena video boards — for maybe a minute — showed 50-32.
After being notified of the error, McCaffery approached the operator while saying something with a raised voice, and he slammed an open hand into the scorer’s table.
It was not a good look. And it underscored the frustration that's boiling over for Iowa’s coach and his players in Tuesday’s humbling 75-68 loss to the Wolverines.
The Hawkeyes are now dead last in the Big Ten Conference, at 0-3.
“We weren’t locked in. We weren’t focused on the gameplan,” said Tyler Cook, who could have excused himself from the statement after scoring a game-high 28 points. “We had all the information in front of us, and we didn’t come out and execute.”
As a result, they felt McCaffery’s wrath.
Over the years, McCaffery has publicly screamed at his players, nose to nose. He’s slammed a chair at Michigan State. He’s been suspended for bumping an official at Wisconsin.
But even among his widely known sideline antics, McCaffery’s timeout tirade with 8:11 remaining in the first half has got to rank with some of his most explosive in eight years with the Hawkeyes.
After seeing a 12-10 deficit quickly explode to 29-14 in just over 3 minutes, McCaffery twice punched a clipboard in the team huddle. He screamed in players’ faces. One player appeared to talk back at him; McCaffery gave it right back.
McCaffery told them to toughen up.
“Everybody’s open!” he yelled. “Everybody!”
Nobody could argue that point.
Iowa’s passive defense, combined with the Wolverines’ hot shooting, created a doomsday scenario for the Hawkeyes in their first Big Ten Conference game in a month.
At one point, Michigan (13-3, 2-1) was shooting 72 percent (18-for-25). That was the point when the scoreboard operator messed up. Everyone was frustrated with just about everything.
“It wasn’t just our defense. It certainly appeared that way,” McCaffery said. "Our offense was sputtering."
Iowa never fully recovered.
Michigan led by 17 points with just over six minutes remaining. The seven-point final margin and the stat sheet showed a misleadingly competitive game.
That recent five-game winning streak was nice, but these are the games that hold the most tangible weight. And Iowa isn’t winning them.
Now the Hawkeyes, who entered the season with confident designs on making the NCAA Tournament, are 9-7 overall and 14th out of 14 in the Big Ten standings.
Iowa freshman Luka Garza knows why the Hawkeyes got chewed out by Fran McCaffery and defeated by Michigan. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral
“It looked like we were tired or something like that,” freshman big man Luka Garza said. “(McCaffery) was upset with that, rightfully so. He was making such a big point of following the gameplan, and that’s something we did in the last five games."
About that early Michigan hurricane of points that led to McCaffery’s anger …
Out of the under-12 timeout with Michigan holding a 12-10 lead, McCaffery pushed out an all-reserves lineup of Maishe Dailey, Brady Ellingson, Ahmad Wagner, Cordell Pemsl and Garza. They quickly gave up nine points in three Michigan possessions — two 3-pointers and a 3-point play.
In a snap, it was 21-12. Then McCaffery got his starters back in.
Soon, it was 29-14. Then the blowup.
“Anytime you’re a coach and you see that happen,” point guard Jordan Bohannon said, "you’re not going to be too happy.”
Social-media users were more than willing to weigh in, with some observers wondering why athletes would want to play for McCaffery.
“It’s tough, just being basketball players and having that happen,” Bohannon said of the public outbursts that become more noticeable when the Hawkeyes are losing. “We’re just here to play the game that we love, really, and we have to know that these coaches are the ones that have been with us since Day 1. They want the best for us, and we want the best for them, obviously. For us to move forward, we just have to be 100 percent on what they’re trying to say.”
How to do that?
Pemsl said it depends on the individual.
“Everybody’s different. But in my opinion, you let Coach get his message across, but you have to understand the message different than the presentation of the message," the sophomore said. "Obviously, people see him yelling and assume he’s freaking out.
“He knows we’re not perfect. We’re not going to make every play perfect. It’s just the hustle and the heart that he’s asking for, and we didn’t show that to start the game.”
Cordell Pemsl explains it’s about the message, not the presentation. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral
The postgame message: Flush this one, and prepare for Thursday's home game against Ohio State. Iowa plays Sunday at Maryland.
"We'll obviously break this down and make some teaching points," McCaffery said. "Some of it won't be too pleasant, but there were some good things. And we'll shift our focus to Ohio State. ... We just have to play better. That's that."
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.