Renewed toughness, energy will send the Hawkeyes past Temple

Chad Leistikow
Iowa's Mike Gesell hopes to extend his career with a win Friday against Temple.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The challenge awaiting Iowa in Friday’s NCAA Tournament opener is patient, tough and physical.

South Region No. 10 seed Temple is sort of a combination of Wisconsin and Penn State — two teams that beat the seventh-seeded Hawkeyes during their late-season swoon they’ll aim to reverse starting at roughly 2:10 p.m. at the Barclays Center.

“They’re very opportunistic, and so is Wisconsin. But Wisconsin will swing it or move it and take their time in the half-court,” said Iowa assistant coach Kirk Speraw, who was assigned the Temple scout. “And that’s what Temple will do. All of a sudden, they’ll attack individually.

“They’re physical. They’re gritty. They’re tough. They’re gamers, they’re ballers. They’re not afraid of situations. They’re not afraid of making a big shot, taking a big shot.”

Despite losing six of its last eight games, Iowa (21-10) is a 7½-point favorite against Temple (21-11), which will try to ugly it up against the Hawkeyes.

“You look at any team in the Big Ten, they pride themselves on grinding it out, being physical,” said Iowa’s 7-foot-1, 250-pound Adam Woodbury. “Nothing we haven’t seen before.”

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The Owls shoot 40.5 percent from the field, one of the worst marks in the nation, but they keep games close with ball protection (an NCAA-low 9.2 turnovers per game) and solid defense.

And when Temple can stay close, it usually wins. It posted a 9-4 mark in games decided by five points or less, compared with Iowa’s 2-6 mark in such games. While Iowa relies on Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok to light up the nets, Temple relies on a starless roster that plays well together.

“When we get down … or into those tight stretches,” Temple’s 6-foot-8, 240-pound Jaylen Bond said, “we’ll gather up together and just make sure that we know we all have to do it together. There’s no five-point shot or anything like that.”

The Hawkeyes would love nothing more than to jump out to an early lead and build on it. That was the recipe to success in their best performance of the last month, a 71-61 regular-season-ending win at Michigan after they led 17-5.

But that early fire was missing in a Big Ten Conference tournament-opening loss to Illinois. Iowa seems confident that won’t happen again Friday.

“We didn’t talk about it, it’s pretty much a given,” Woodbury said. “If we don’t come out with more energy, we’re going to go home. It’s do or die now.”

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As a group, the Iowa players say practices have been great in the last week. There’s high energy, fresh legs. Senior Anthony Clemmons, who went 0-for-8 against Illinois, is indicative of that. He spent two days away from basketball after that loss and regenerated an inner hunger.

“We’ve just had great practices. Everybody’s been going at each other. It’s been super competitive,” Clemmons said. “There’s been a lot of energy. Coaches have been on point. Just a lot of positivity going around.”

Look for Iowa to maybe give a little more action to freshman Nicholas Baer, who sparked a late 11-point comeback against Illinois. Coach Fran McCaffery won’t hesitate to look for anyone who is bringing full energy to the table.

That could mean more of freshman Ahmad Wagner, who at 6-foot-7, 225 can bang inside with the Owls and has been playing well down the stretch.

“Especially now that we’re in the tournament, every team is going to give it everything they’ve got,” Wagner said. “We’ve got to match every team’s energy.”

The Iowa-Temple winner faces either No. 2-seeded Villanova or No. 15 UNC-Asheville on Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16.

If the Hawkeyes can bring the fight to Temple like they did in sweeping No. 2-ranked Michigan State earlier in the year, they’ll win. If they don’t, they’re going to be staring in the mirror at an opportunity lost. For four senior starters, their college careers could end Friday.

“It’s a tournament; you lose you’re done,” Uthoff said. “You need to take the fight no matter who you’re playing.”

Added point guard Mike Gesell: “We’re fresh, and it’s a new season. After Selection Sunday, nothing that happened in the season matters at all. In March anything can happen. We’re ready to make some noise in this tournament.”


Matchup: South Region, No. 7 Iowa (21-10) vs. No. 10 Temple (21-11)

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Time, TV: 2:10 p.m. CT, truTV (Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel)

Radio: WHO-AM (1040) in Des Moines, KXIC-AM (800) in Iowa City and the Hawkeye network.

The line: Iowa is favored by 7.5 points