CEDAR FALLS — For 30 minutes Iowa and Northern Iowa slugged possession-by-possession to a virtual draw.
For the final 10 minutes, Iowa delivered a self-inflicted technical knockout that turned a competitive game into a statistical blowout.
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery was ejected after a pair of technical fouls. An Iowa assistant — all of which vehemently were arguing a call — was dinged once. Iowa sophomore forward Zach McCabe added another while fouling out. The result was an 80-60 UNI win Tuesday night at McLeod Center.
McCaffery rode the officials throughout the game, but there were a series of calls that set him off. With 11 minutes, 39 seconds left in the game, Iowa guard Devyn Marble was called for a foul on UNI center Austin Pehl, who appeared to push Marble away. The officials reviewed the play during a media timeout, but stuck with the call.
Three possessions later, Iowa trailed 47-45 with 9:47 left. McCabe drove into Pehl at the Iowa hoop and was whistled for charging. Both McCaffery and his bench went ballistic and each was hit for a technical foul.
UNI guard Anthony James shot four consecutive free throws and made them all to boost the Panthers’ lead to six points. On the possession following the free throws, McCabe fouled UNI forward Seth Tuttle on his way to the basket. McCabe tapped the ball against the backboard, and was hit with another technical. Johnny Moran sank the two technical shots, and Tuttle hit the other two to extend the Panthers’ two-point lead to eight.
After the game McCaffery did not answer any question related to his technical fouls.
“I thought our kids really fought hard tonight,” McCaffery said. “I thought they fought hard.
“I felt we really came in here and competed tonight.”
McCaffery was asked afterward if he thought the technicals cost the Hawkeyes a chance at the game. McCaffery declined to answer directly.
“I’m here to comment about our team,” he said.
The game wasn’t over, but the tension simmered. As Northern Iowa continued to score, Iowa senior Matt Gatens was hit twice with offensive fouls. After Gatens missed a 3-pointer with 4:47 left in the game, McCaffery complained to official John Higgins, throwing his hands in the air, saying, “Where’s the foul?” Higgins then popped McCaffery with another technical and tossed him from the game.
The Panthers sank four more free throws to extend their lead to 67-47 on a 21-2 run. Iowa’s players said the fouls put them in a tough spot, but weren’t ready to concede defeat.
“Coach is real competitive,” Gatens said. “He’s going to fight for us, he’s going to continue to fight for us and he was sticking up for us. It’s unfortunate it went down like that. They got, what, eight free throws in a row? It’s tough to come back from that.”
“The momentum was changing a lot and it was hard to overcome, but that’s going to happen,” Marble said. “Coach felt like that was going to energize us. I think it did, but the continuous of them, I think at the end, it was hard to overcome. Then Zach got one.”
The flip side was Northern Iowa’s spectacular free-throw shooting. The Panthers sank all 12 free-throw attempts following technicals and were 29-of-33 from the free-throw line.
“I thought our guys stepped to the line and made their free throws,” UNI Coach Ben Jacobson said.
Both James and Marc Sonnen were 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. James led all scorers with 18 points. Jake Koch added 13 and Tuttle had 12.
Iowa shot nine free throws and sank just three.
“Really, I didn’t notice that,” McCaffery said. “Interesting statistic.”
Iowa (5-4) played without starting point guard Bryce Cartwright, who suffered a hamstring injury late against Brown on Saturday. Cartwright tried to practice and participated in warmups but couldn’t respond.
Iowa did, however, at least early. The Hawkeyes blasted Northern Iowa from the opening tip, scoring on their first five possessions to take a 10-0 lead. The Panthers clawed back on an 11-2 run and eventually took the lead at 24-23 on a Chip Rank 3-pointer with 4:16 left in the first half.
Later in the half Rank drilled a 3-pointer as he was fouled by Melsahn Basabe and completed a four-point play. That push the Panthers’ lead to 32-25 with 25.5 seconds left.
UNI (8-1) now has won seven straight games and has swept instate rivals Iowa State and Iowa. Jacobson said the team’s confidence is growing.
“I could sense it the entire time,” Jacobson said. “Yesterday at practice. At shootaround today, prior to the game, while the game was going on.
“The guys were ready.”
All four of Iowa’s losses have come by at least 16 points.
“We’re going to keep working,” Iowa forward Eric May said. “We’re going to keep getting better, fixing up loose ends and really get after it on Friday (against Iowa State).”