Panic button remains unused for Iowa basketball

BY BEN ROSS | MARCH 03, 2014 5:00 AM

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Fran McCaffery wants you to know he didn’t push the panic button going into the Purdue game.

Over the course of four games played in eight days, the Iowa men’s basketball team went from likely having a bye in the Big Ten Tournament and an NCAA Tournament shoo-in bid to suddenly on the bubble of national conversation. No. 20 Iowa (20-9, 9-7 Big Ten) went into its contest against Purdue (15-14, 9-11) with three-straight losses (Wisconsin, at Minnesota, and at Indiana) and to iterate, because he wanted to, McCaffery wasn’t in a state of hysteria prior to the contest against Purdue.

“No,” was McCaffery’s response when he was asked if he hit the panic button going into today’s game.  “I’m not speaking of the panic button. [When Iowa blew an 11-point lead in the second half and went down 4 points], I wasn’t panicking. We weren’t panicking. It was a gut check, there’s no question about that. We showed a lot of character.”

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Iowa’s only losing streak of the season started on Feb. 22, when Wisconsin punched Iowa right in the mouth in Carver-Hawkeye. Then Minnesota set its season-high marks for points against Iowa on Feb. 25 in a 95-89 win. The tailspin was capped off at Indiana, where Will Sheehey scored a career-high 30 points for the Hoosiers in a 93-86 Iowa loss two days after the Minnesota game.

“We lost three games in a row against three really good teams,” junior guard Josh Oglesby said. “We knew what we had to do to come out and get the win today. I think it was really good, people were down, and I thought we responded well today.”

Iowa had yet to lose consecutive games prior to that skid, and was favored by at least 6 points in each game. So, yeah. It could be fair to say Iowa had a reason or two to panic going into Purdue. A four-game losing streak, with three of the games against unranked, inferior opponents doesn’t look good on anyone’s tournament résumé.

“It feels like we haven’t won forever,” sophomore guard Mike Gesell said after the game. “You get in some ruts during the season — this [was] our first extended losing streak — but it felt good to get a win and get some of our confidence back. We felt we were fine. We had confidence in ourselves. We weren’t panicking.”

If Iowa wasn’t panicking going into Purdue, it certainly had reason to during the game. The Boilermakers went on a 25-10 run to start the second half, erasing the 11-point lead Iowa had accumulated to begin the frame. Then Iowa went on a 8-0 run of its own to give itself a 2-point advantage, a lead it never relinquished.

After Purdue, Iowa will travel to No. 18 Michigan State on Thursday and take on Illinois at home two days later. Illinois just beat the Spartans on March 1. Had Iowa lost to Purdue, it easily could have finished the regular season with six-straight losses. If that doesn’t put a panicky mood in your gut, I don’t know what would.

“I think we had a sense of urgency,” senior guard Devyn Marble said following his 21-point performance against Purdue. “We had that coming into the game; it was important for us as a team to get this victory.”

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