Brown: Iowa falls into old habits against Cyclones

Rick Brown

IOWA CITY, Ia. – The first half had a disastrous end for Iowa. And that was just an appetizer.

Things went so haywire for the Hawkeyes in the first six minutes of Friday's second half against Iowa State that it felt like Iowa was playing Michigan State at the Breslin Center, a place where it hasn't won since 1993.

But this was Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where Iowa had won 31 consecutive games against non-conference opponents. The 14th-ranked Cyclones took care of that in smashing style, 90-75.

There is no way to paint a pretty picture of this one. The team that forgot to play defense down the stretch last season fell into the same habit with the game on the line Friday.

"It's the same crap that happened last year," Iowa senior forward Aaron White said. "I thought we were over it. It's frustrating."

The offense wasn't any better, and the Hawkeyes crashed and burned before a sellout crowd that was expecting much more.

"Unacceptable," White said. "That's the best word for it."

Iowa State had a 35-33 lead late in the first half, and Iowa milked the clock for the last shot. Mike Gesell's attempt was blocked by Monte Morris with four seconds left, and Iowa State's Matt Thomas nailed a transition 3-pointer at the buzzer.

"I thought that was a big play in the game," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.

The first halves of games against Texas and North Carolina had ended the same way. Iowa never regained momentum against the Longhorns, but righted the ship against the Tar Heels in the Hawkeyes' best win of the season last week in Chapel Hill.

Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg agreed with McCaffery's assessment about the value of the Thomas triple. The Cyclones took that momentum and delivered a second-half haymaker.

Iowa State outscored Iowa over the first 6 minutes of the second half, 24-4. After turning it over just twice in the first half, the Hawkeyes had five turnovers in a six-possession stretch early in the second. Iowa State scored on 11 of its first 13 possessions in the second half, including the last 10 in that run.

"They were making a run and we just kind of accepted it," White said. "That was the most disappointing thing from my end. We just accepted it and acted like we couldn't compete."

Strong words. And he was right. McCaffery called two quick time outs to try and stop the run.

"You've got to start pushing different buttons," McCaffery said. "You got to make a couple of substitutions, maybe get energy. Go big, go small. Press, don't press."

Nothing worked. McCaffery's team was collectively sideways. The offense was stagnant. The defense couldn't slow down the Cyclones. A fatal mix.

When Iowa lost to Texas earlier this season, the Hawkeyes had a dry spell offensively and didn't have the grit to play defense at the other end. The Longhorns scored on nine consecutive possessions at one point in the second half.

McCaffery thought his team had learned a lesson from that experience. Obviously, there's still work to be done.

"It was a little like the Texas game in a sense that once the wheels started coming off, defensively we broke down, offensively we broke down," McCaffery said.

Now it's his job to get those wheels back on between now and the Dec. 20 game against Northern Iowa in the Big Four Classic.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.