Iowa men's basketball knows one good half isn't going to cut it vs. teams like Purdue
IOWA CITY — Purdue's 83-73 win over Iowa men's basketball on Thursday night too closely resembled the first matchup for coach Fran McCaffery and his players' liking. Like their Dec. 3 road game, the Hawkeyes fought back from a large second-half deficit (18 points) to lose a close game.
Iowa cut the deficit to as little as four points, outscoring the Boilermakers outright in the second half, but it was unable to get over the hump for a comeback win.
After the game, McCaffery offered his thoughts on how Purdue successfully built another large lead in the first half and the frustration in fighting back from a large deficit.
"It's always disappointing when it happens," he said. "You know, sometimes you can feel it coming; sometimes it just happens. At some point you have to give your opponent credit, too. They were ready to go. They came out ready. They jumped us a little bit. Then I think we were a little bit too much, 'All right, we need to make a play so I'm going to go do it.' It's 'we're' going to go do it, not 'I'm' going to go do it.
"That's exactly what we did in the second half. The way we attacked their defense in the second half is the only way you can beat them. If you try to do what we did in the first half, you're not going to beat them, period."
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Iowa has made a habit of slow starts and strong finishes this season. There are several occurrences throughout the year where it has climbed out of double-digit holes:
- Dec. 3 at Purdue: largest deficit was 19 points, lost by seven points
- Dec. 6 vs. Illinois: largest deficit was 15 points, lost by four points
- Jan. 13 vs. Indiana: largest deficit was 11 points, won by nine points
- Thursday night vs. Purdue: largest deficit was 18 points, lost by 10 points
On one end, the value of a team that fights to the end is obvious. But against elite competition, one half of great basketball hardly wins out.
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"There's been a lot of times where we've gotten down in the first half and fought our way back," said Keegan Murray, who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds Thursday. "That's not what great teams do. They compete and fight for the whole 40 minutes. We can't dig ourselves in a hole."
Iowa's first half woes were two-fold: A lack of execution on offense, shooting only 37% from the field with five assists, paired with and an inability to stop Purdue's 3-point shot, allowing it to shoot 58% from the behind the arc.
"Defensively in the first half, I feel like we weren't connected," said Kris Murray, who led the team with 23 points. "Like when we went to double (Purdue's bigs) and we just left all of their shooters open."
Kris Murray stepped in for injured center Filip Rebraca (ankle) to start the second half. He, with Iowa's other regular starters, stormed back in the second half. Rebraca returned briefly in the second half, likely indicating that his injury isn't serious. But if he misses time, Kris Murray's continued recent emergence with Thursday's performance is a positive takeaway.
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Looking ahead, in addition to a true marquee win, Iowa's in search of a complete performance against a NCAA Tournament-caliber opponent. With Thursday's loss to Purdue, the Hawkeyes are 0-4 against ranked teams this season. Additionally, by ESPN's latest tournament projections, it is one of four high-major teams included without an Associated Press top-25 victory.
Next Monday's road game at Penn State isn't a ranked game but will serve as an opportunity to correct mistakes on both ends shown against Purdue. As for wire-to-wire consistency, McCaffery's solution pointed toward competing better from the opening tip.
"I didn't think we competed in the first half the way you have to compete to beat a team of this caliber," he said postgame. "That doesn't mean we didn't play hard. You have to play hard, you have to be connected, pay attention to the game plan, and we were late on stuff. And then we tried to do it all on our own offensively.
"So you're proud of the guys for fighting the way they did, but then you're disappointed because they know better. So hopefully we'll learn from it."
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com.