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Men's hoops guts out narrow win against Purdue, 83-76

BY RYAN PROBASCO | MARCH 03, 2014 5:00 AM

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There was nothing pretty about the way the Iowa men’s basketball team dispatched Purdue in Carver-Hawkeye Arena Sunday afternoon. But it was exactly the type of win Hawkeye players and coaches needed following their first losing streak of any kind this season.

“Shoot, if we would have lost this, the world may have ended,” junior forward Aaron White said with a smile following the win. “I mean, yeah, that’s a little sarcasm. But obviously, this is a big win, big game. It’s disappointing we lost three in a row, but I think we fixed the problems that we had. Every team in the league has had a stretch like that.

“I was tired of losing; I hate losing, especially three in a row in close games.”

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After a sluggish and otherwise boring start by both squads, Purdue and Iowa found a bit of rhythm offensively. Iowa took charge to close the first half, going on a 15-5 run that widened the Hawkeye lead to a game-high 13 points at the break.

But after halftime, the same defensive issues that plagued the Black and Gold during its three-game slide began to show up. And a shooting lull allowed the Boilermakers to grab a 64-60 lead with 11:24 left in the game.

Purdue’s 27-10 run after halftime sent a concerned shock of panic through the arena, the same feeling Iowa fans had grown too accustomed to over the past week.

“We knew they were going to make a run, disappointing that we let them score six of their first seven possessions,” White said. “But I like the resiliency of our group to not back down … We needed this; I’m happy for the guys and happy we got the win.”

The game stayed at 64-60 for more than two minutes. But an Adam Woodbury jump hook and a 3-pointer by White with little time left on the shot clock put Iowa ahead 65-64, one it did not relinquish.

“We needed to score, and we scored,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “The 3 gave us the lead. Both baskets clearly got the crowd involved, which I think was absolutely critical … We hadn’t given them much in the second half to cheer about.”

The difference between the way Iowa performed Sunday compared with its previous few games was most evident in how it defended and protected the ball.

The turnover margin was very much in Iowa’s favor (16-5) and masked a dull and seemingly bland team shooting performance (26-of-60, 43.3 percent).

“One difference [for our defense] was that we took care of the ball on offense,” sophomore point guard Mike Gesell said. “We weren’t giving up fast-break buckets because of turnovers.”

The win snapped Iowa’s first three-game losing streak since January 2013 and gave fans hope that its recent performance was a fixable aberration.

But Sunday’s win wasn’t without hiccups. And McCaffery certainly didn’t want to discuss whether or not it means his team is still capable of making a run in the Big Dance.

“I think that question is asked way too many times,” he said. “We get that question in December. We get it in November. I don’t care right now. I want to figure out how we can beat Michigan State. How can we keep getting our team better? When that time comes, we’ll deal with that. It drives me crazy … Get in. Go try to win.”


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