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Commentary: Tucker’s progress might be key

BY BRENDAN STILES | DECEMBER 02, 2009 7:20 AM

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Before Tuesday night, the Iowa men’s basketball team had struggled all season long from 3-point range. It even reached the point where the inside play of both Jarryd Cole and Brennan Cougill meant the difference between victory and defeat in a game against North Carolina Central last weekend.

As far as the players who had struggled prior to a 70-64 loss to Virginia Tech, no one seemed to have more of a challenge this season than sophomore Anthony Tucker.

Yes, the Minnetonka, Minn., native had nine assists in a Nov. 20 win over Bowling Green. But aside from that, to say he had been putting on a shooting clinic would have been an enormous exaggeration.

He boasted a 30.5 field-goal percentage and averaged around nine points per contest.

But that wasn’t the case against Virginia Tech on Tuesday. Tucker finished with 9-of-18 shooting with a season-high 24 points, which also tied a career-high. More importantly, six of those nine field goals were from the outside.

Immediately, the Hawkeyes jumped to an 8-1 lead, thanks in large to Tucker nailing his first two 3-point attempts. Throughout the first half, Tucker showed what he was capable of both inside and outside the arc.

With the Hawkeyes trailing 34-28 at halftime, Tucker had half of Iowa’s points with 14. And his play kept the Hawkeyes from getting massacred when Virginia Tech went on a critical 15-2 run in the first half to take a lead it wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the evening.

Don’t get me wrong — Tucker wasn’t the only player producing for Iowa. In fact, even in defeat, this was a Hawkeye squad that, minus one critical stretch during the first half, held its own against a strong ACC team.

But here’s the biggest thing to take away from watching the Hawkeyes: The play of Tucker is going to decide the vast majority of Iowa’s remaining games.

When Tucker is on like he was Tuesday, Iowa may not always win, but the Hawkeyes are going to keep it close with whomever they play. When he struggles shooting the ball, as in November, this team is going to struggle mightily against conference foes.

And honestly, it makes sense. At the start of last season, Tucker played phenomenally before his whole string of events transpired, and the Hawkeyes were winning games they were supposed to win.

Tuesday’s outcome may have been a loss, which now puts Iowa at 2-5 overall this season, but aside from one awful stretch offensively in the first half, and it would have been a completely different game.

Virginia Tech is a decent basketball team.

Todd Lickliter always seems to bring up the positives after defeats, and Tucker’s performance is something that he and the rest of the Hawkeyes can all build from.


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