IOWA CITY There was nothing smooth about Iowa's performance last night against Nebraska. It was jagged, irregular and messy, yet it was a win in a Big Ten opener, something Iowa hadn't done in seven years.
The No. 22-ranked Hawkeyes (12-2) puttered around at the free-throw line, were out-rebounded in the first half and played sluggishly for the game's first 20 minutes. But Iowa still managed a 67-57 victory against Nebraska (8-5) in the teams' league opener last night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It was Iowa's 1-0 start in Big Ten play since Steve Alford was coach, and it's a statistic Coach Fran McCaffery won't take for granted.
"I think you feel good about any Big Ten win," McCaffery said. "When you look at this league, there is no relief anywhere, there is just none. Whether you're at home, no matter who you're playing."
But the win aside, it was hardly a performance that will end in applause during the team's postseason banquet. Iowa entered the game as the Big Ten's rebounding leader, and Nebraska ranked last. Yet the Cornhuskers out-hustled and out-rebounded the Hawkeyes 44-42. Nebraska grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, including 11 in the first half.
But the rebounding numbers paled to Iowa's free-throw performance. McCaffery said it was part of the game plan to drive on Nebraska's defenders and get to the line. The Hawkeyes made 22-of-39, shooting just 56.4 percent. Nebraska attempted 18 free throws with 12 makes.
"It's frustrating because we wanted to drive this team" McCaffery said. "We want them to drive and transition. We want them to throw the ball inside because we have the height advantage. So we get to the free-throw line 39 times. So they did everything we asked them to do. From following the game plan perspective, they were phenomenal. We make free throws and it's an easier victory, obviously.
"So it's disappointing that we missed, what, 17? But at the same time it's encouraging that we got there 39 times."
Iowa's players were incredulous about the total number of misses. Individually the numbers weren't terrible, but collectively it's an issue.
"Maybe we ain't doing something we're supposed to do because the rims acted like we were the visitor (last night)," said Iowa guard Devyn Marble, who scored a team-high 15 points but was just 7-of-11 from the line "I don't know. They were going in and out. All you can do is just keep shooting. All of mine felt good. I can't speak for everybody else.
"There's going to be days like that. We've just got to weather the storm and still find a way to get a W. That's what matters the most."
"It's weird because we're a good free-throw shooting team," Iowa forward Aaron White said. "I had two that went in and out. Dev had two or three that went in and out. We shoot a better number than we did (last night). Despite that, you still win by 10 and we missed 17. I'm not too worried about it. Just a bad night for us, I guess."
But what Iowa failed to do at the free-throw line, it made up for on defense. The Hawkeyes led Nebraska to just 30 percent from the floor and 5-of-18 from 3-point range. Iowa absorbed a 13-1 run and a six-point first-half deficit and countered with its own 16-3 run to end the first half and take a 30-23 lead.
The Hawkeyes led by 20 with 8:12 left in the game when White stole a pass at mid-court and threw it down with two hands. But that was Iowa's final basket of the game, as its final 12 points came via free throws.
It hardly was a memorable performance, and it's not one the Hawkeyes want to repeat, especially in their next game at No. 4 Wisconsin. But it's a Big Ten-opening win, something they none of them have experienced.
"Obviously we didn't play a perfect game, but we played well enough to win," McCaffery said. "You just put it behind you, and we've got 17 more."
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