IOWA CITY, Iowa — In a few months, when the Big Ten grind chews up Iowa’s youthful exuberance, the Hawkeyes will remember this humbling feeling.
Iowa (2-1) played hard enough to put up a fight in a 91-83 loss to Seton Hall (3-0) on Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but its inexperience was obvious at critical junctures in the second half. Its defense, at times, was woeful, as was its free-throw shooting. Turnovers seemed to strike on multiple possessions in maddening fashion.
If a group of statistics could produce gritted teeth and a head nod from Iowa supporters, it was Seton Hall’s second-half shooting percentage. The Pirates shot 65.5 percent from the field, hitting 19 of 29 shots, and scored 30 points in the paint after halftime. Those are losing numbers, and Iowa coach Fran McCaffery knows it.
“I would like to have seen us play better defense collectively,” McCaffery said. “For the duration, but certainly in the second half, you can’t give them 66 percent. You’re not winning. We changed defenses, we went to the press, we went to the zone, and we just didn’t perform to the level that’s necessary.”
Seton Hall taught Iowa a few lessons along the way. With Seton Hall’s five upperclassmen going against Iowa’s two, the Pirates attacked the rim and the Hawkeyes struggled to rotate and help. They often were caught in the middle of not fully committing to defending the perimeter or the paint. In a critical stretch run, Seton Hall scored on 13 of 17 possessions and extended a one-point lead to 11. The Hawkeyes couldn’t close the gap because they kept allowing baskets.
“We can’t use (youth) as an excuse,” said Iowa senior shooting guard Peter Jok, who notched career-highs in points (30) and rebounds (11). “Coach has been talking to us all year until now about defense. We talk about defense all the time. That’s the main thing we’ve got to get better in. (Thursday) we didn’t do a good job in that. That’s one of the main reasons why we lost the game.”
The defense caused the biggest problem, but Iowa’s offense contributed to the downfall. Iowa totaled 17 turnovers that led to 21 Seton Hall points. The Hawkeyes struggled from the free-throw line, making just 19 of 32 attempts.
It wasn’t all bad for Iowa, however. Freshman forward Tyler Cook was a force inside, scoring 24 points and hitting nine of 15 shots from the field. In 36 minutes, Jok knocked down 11 of 21 field-goal attempts, dished four assists, had two steals and only turnover.
But in a game against a veteran squad that returned four starters from a 25-win team, the Hawkeyes showed they’ve got some ground to make up defensively before they play Big Ten teams. Thursday’s game didn’t produce the desired outcome, but it did provide several teaching points before next week’s trip to the Emerald Coast Classic, where they’ll face Virginia. That’s something they’ll carry with them all season.
“It was a learning experience for us,” Cook said. “We’ll learn from it.”