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Drama overshadows Iowa men's hoops woes

BY MATT COZZI | DECEMBER 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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Perhaps overlooked in the technical-foul drama of Iowa's 80-60 loss to Northern Iowa on Tuesday was the Hawkeyes' lack of perimeter defense.

The Panthers were red-hot from the 3-point line in the first period, long before Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was ejected with his second technical of the second half.

Northern Iowa overcame an early 10-0 Iowa lead in the game's opening minutes by shooting 67 percent from the perimeter in the first half following the media time-out at the 15:46 mark.

The Hawkeyes' inability to guard the 3-point line was most glaring immediately after that time-out, when the Panthers went on an 11-2 run. Three 3-point baskets by Northern Iowa's Marc Sonnen, Jake Koch, and Chip Rank spurred the Panthers' comeback and pulled the team within 1 point of Iowa.

Rank connected on two more from 3-point territory as halftime approached. The first gave his team its first lead at 24-23, the other was part of a 4-point play after he was fouled by Melsahn Basabe with 26 seconds remaining.

Northern Iowa's hot shooting even came as a surprise to its players.

"It's not there every game for us," Koch said.

McCaffery said he expected the Panthers to go on a run sometime, but he didn't anticipate his squad would allow Northern Iowa to shoot a season-best 52 percent from the perimeter and tie a season-high by making 11 3-pointers.

"I thought defensively at the start of the game, we were really good, and I don't think we were as good [after that]," the second-year head coach said.

While Koch and the rest of the Panthers may not be used to the kind of perimeter success they had against Iowa, the Hawkeyes' visit to the McLeod Center was just Iowa's latest struggle in limiting opponents' long-range offense.

Three of Iowa's last five opponents — Northern Iowa, Clemson, and Campbell — shot at least 50 percent from the 3-point line. Entering the game against the Panthers, the Black and Gold ranked 10th in the Big Ten and 228th out of 338 teams nationally in 3-point field-goal defense at 35 percent.

That number may not sound all that bad, but it's a number that has been on the rise in recent weeks. The team has allowed five of its last six opponents to shoot a combined 48 percent from the perimeter; the exception was Brown, which connected on 4 of its 22 attempts

McCaffery said his team especially needs to improve when defending against ball-screens, although he said the Hawkeyes were "better at times" against the tactic during the Northern Iowa game.

He also offered fatigue and a "limited roster" as possible explanations for his squad's poor defensive efforts on the outside. Iowa played without starting point guard Bryce Cartwright in Cedar Falls because of a hamstring problem; McCaffery said the senior suffered the injury against Brown on Dec. 3. He said he isn't sure whether Cartwright will be ready for Friday's game at Iowa State.

Those who were healthy enough to play against Northern Iowa gave a variety of answers when asked what needs to be fixed.

"Our on-the-ball defense isn't where it needs to be," guard Matt Gatens said, noting the team needs to close out on shooters better. "We keep talking about that, seems like every day."

Sophomore Devyn Marble offered a simpler answer.

"It's something simple that you can fix, but you have to make sure you sustain 100 percent effort," he said. "Sometimes, we'll defend really well, but then next time down we'll half-defend it, That's when they get an open 3 or an open lay-up. It's just sustaining that effort for 40 minutes.

"We just got to watch film, learn from our mistakes, and go back to practice and work on it."

Follow DI men's basketball reporter Ben Schuff on Twitter.


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