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The Rosster: How do you teach clutch?

BY BEN ROSS | DECEMBER 16, 2013 5:00 AM

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AMES — The Iowa men’s basketball team had a whole lot of chances to seal the deal against No. 17 Iowa State in a raucous Hilton Coliseum on Dec. 13. Devyn Marble could have put Iowa up by 3 points with less than a minute left with two free-throws on a one-and-one. He missed the front end of the shots, and Iowa gripped a 1-point lead.

With 13 seconds left, Mike Gesell could have put Iowa up by 1 or at least tied the game with his free throws after he drew a foul from Monte Harris. The sophomore clanked both his shots, and the Cyclones maintained the lead. Zach McCabe had a good look from 3 with five seconds left to tie it up, but the rock toilet-bowled out, and Iowa’s chances of taking a win in a game that it had led in the waning seconds were once again dashed.

Dating back to last season, Iowa has lost seven games in which it had the lead with about a minute or less to go in the contest. It held a 1-point lead with 45 seconds to go over Nebraska on Feb. 23. Blew it.

It was up 3 points at Wisconsin on Feb. 6 with 31 seconds left. Bucky took that game into two overtimes and squeaked out a victory.

Iowa was up 2 with 39 seconds against then-No. 23 Minnesota three days before the Wisconsin game. The Gophers came back and won that one.

This is getting old, isn’t it?

Purdue took the lead from Iowa with 47 seconds left and held on to win in West Lafayette on Jan. 27.

On Jan. 10, then-No. 22 Michigan State headed into Carver-Hawkeye to face a little-talked about Hawkeye squad. Iowa squandered a 3-point lead with a 1:04 to go, and Sparty held on.

But wait, there’s more.

On Nov. 30, Iowa was pitted against Villanova in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. Iowa was up by 12 with 10 minutes to go and clung to a 71-69 lead with 55 ticks left on the clock. The game went to overtime, and bested Iowa to be crowned kings of Nassau.

And then there’s the Iowa State game. The Hawkeyes have proved to be a more-than capable team for around 39 minutes per outing, it’s just the last seconds that really kill them. I don’t know how you teach clutch. I doubt there’s a way you really can. More than likely, Iowa will just have to win a close game to get that (presumably) delicious taste of victory in their mouths.

I guarantee Fran McCaffery’s squad will get the opportunity to come out ahead in a nail-biter, too. After Arkansas-Pine Bluff next week, his team has 18 games to play in the best college basketball conference in the world.

And that grueling Big Ten schedule is where this season could easily turn into that of last. If Iowa holds on to three or maybe even two of those close losses, it finds itself in the NCAA tourney. Right now, this season is sort of shaping up to be a mirror of 2012-13. Something’s going to have to change in late-game demeanor if this squad is going to live up to all the hype surrounding it.

Iowa is going to have to learn to be clutch. Soon.


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