Fran McCaffery after Hawkeyes outmuscled in blowout loss to TCU: 'We'll learn from it'

Chad Leistikow
Des Moines Register

Fran McCaffery's Iowa basketball team went to Florida with realistic hopes of winning two games at the Emerald Coast Classic and starting a season 6-0 for the third straight season.

After gutting out a first-game win against Clemson on Friday, the nightcap against TCU was a much bigger struggle.

The fact that Iowa lost the game wasn't as alarming as the decisive nature of the loss. The Hawkeyes didn't look like themselves in any way, fumbling away too many turnovers and missing shots they usually make in a 79-66 loss to the physical Horned Frogs in Niceville, Florida.

More:No. 24 Iowa holds off late Clemson surge to advance in Emerald Coast Classic

The Hawkeyes were within 45-41 early in the second half before things completely unraveled. TCU scored 27 of the next 35 points over eight-plus minutes to seize a commanding 72-49 lead. Iowa scored 12 of the final 14 points to make the final margin somewhat respectable.

“Both games were really physical, which is not unlike what we see in the Big Ten," McCaffery said. "We’ve got some veteran guys back, but it’s a new team. I think it’s important to be able to play against teams with that level of physicality and figure it out. We were good (Friday) night; tonight, we weren’t as good. But we’ll learn from it."

Here's a short summation of the Hawkeyes' surprising struggles.

One night after owning a plus-14 edge in rebounding against Clemson, the Hawkeyes were beaten on the boards, 41-28.

Fran McCaffery tried to push a lot of different buttons Saturday against TCU but to no avail.

The Hawkeyes averaged just 8.2 turnovers per game in their 5-0 start, which included an impressive road win at Seton Hall. In this one, they had nine first-half turnovers alone and finished with a season-high 15.

And a team that was shooting 40% from 3-point range coming into this two-game stint shot 4-for-19 from beyond the arc against Clemson then 3-for-17 against TCU. That's a brutal 19.4% weekend from distance in Florida.

Iowa was 6-for-29 shooting in the second half until making its final six shots.

“(TCU's physical style) affected us throughout the course of the game. We shot a low number in the second half as a team," McCaffery said. "Then I think it was a combination of physicality, and we started quick-shooting the ball. Our decision-making wasn’t what it needed to be from a shot-selection standpoint.”

Hawkeye star junior Kris Murray had a second-straight off night from the floor, shooting 4-for-14 and finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds. (He was 4-for-17 against Clemson.) Patrick McCaffery, who scored 21 points in the win against Clemson, didn't score a point and was 0-for-5 in 16 minutes of action.

Tony Perkins and Ahron Ulis led the Hawkeyes (5-1) with 15 points apiece.

More:As bigger Iowa basketball games loom, the Kris Murray show is taking flight

TCU (5-1) was a preseason top-15 team and is expected to be a strong contender in the Big 12 Conference but had struggled out of the gates with star player Mike Miles dealing with an injury. Miles was back against the Hawkeyes and scored 15 points with five assists Saturday.

In a bit of an offbeat first half, the Hawkeyes trailed, 36-34, despite no points from Patrick McCaffery, 2 from Payton Sandfort and 2-for-7 shooting from Perkins. Those three got benched just 2½ minutes into the game after the Hawkeyes fell into a 9-0 hole, and Fran McCaffery opted for backups Ulis, Dasonte Bowen and Connor McCaffery. It didn’t take long for Iowa to even things up at 11-11.

Ulis and Bowen provided a spark. They combined to score 15 first-half points on 7-for-7 shooting. Ulis’ strong play kept Sandfort on the bench for a long stretch, and Bowen showed a nice slashing ability to score in traffic. He would finish with 8 points.

Iowa next hosts Georgia Tech at 8 p.m. Tuesday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Then comes a week between games before the Hawkeyes head to New York City to face Duke in the Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 6, then host Iowa State on Dec. 8 and Wisconsin on Dec. 11.

“We have a tough schedule," McCaffery said. "The only way you prepare for those games as the season moves on (is to) challenge yourself in an environment like this against really good teams."