CANCUN, Mexico — Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery walked into his postgame news conference Wednesday and told a joke. There was no look of defeat or despair in his face after his team’s 75-63 loss to Wichita State.
The game provided McCaffery with some teachable moments for his younger players, who struggled against the Shockers’ physical style of play. It’s a style that Iowa (5-1) will see plenty of times in early 2013, and McCaffery was glad they had the chance to experience it for themselves before getting blown out in conference play.
“That’s a Big Ten team,” McCaffery said about 6-0 Wichita State, the defending Missouri Valley Conference champion. “You look at them physically and the way they play. I told (Coach) Gregg (Marshall) that before the game, that’s a Big Ten team. That’s why that’s a great experience for us, playing them and playing them here.”
Iowa didn’t wilt against the physical pressure, but the players’ mistakes showed that there’s plenty of room for improvement. Freshman point guard Mike Gesell, one day removed from a 19-point performance against Western Kentucky, struggled to defend or run the offense against fifth-year senior Malcolm Armstead. Gesell scored only two points and that was on two late free-throw attempts.
In short, he got an education.
“He’s going against a veteran guy, a fifth-year guy who’s really quick and really good,” McCaffery said. “Whenever you take the floor you respect your opponent, I think he respected him too much. He needed to attack a little bit more.”
Freshman center Adam Woodbury missed all three shots against Wichita State’s 7-foot center Ehimen Orupke. Woodbury had his shot blocked and made only one free throw and grabbed only one rebound in 17 minutes.
“Woody did a lot of good things,” McCaffery said. “He was very upset with himself when he got the opportunity to get a layup and they blocked it because he didn’t shot fake and he should have shot faked. We run a play late, and he didn’t execute it properly.
“He’s very conscientious. He knows made a mistake. That’s what freshmen do. But what he’s got to learn that he’s got to be able to execute that play in that situation.”
Sophomore Aaron White was inconsistent early last year, and he understands what the players are going through. He’s optimistic both will rebound just fine.
“You look at Mike’s situation,” White said. “He went against a fifth-year senior who’s been around two years of junior college, played at Oregon for a year. He’s been around the block. He’s a good player. I think where (Gesell) has to get to is he has to know who he’s lining up against and know that he can outplay them .
“Towards the end when he started going by him and making plays, that’s when he succeeded. He’ll learn from this and same with Woody. It’s a physical game and it’s a long season and we’ll have games like this. So they’ll both learn from this and get better.”
Against Wichita State it was more than just the freshmen who made mistakes. Iowa sank just four two-point baskets and hit seven of its eight 3-pointers in the first half. In the second half Iowa was just 4-of-24 from the field. But the Hawkeyes also knocked down 31-of-39 free throws.
McCaffery thought the shot selection was fine. It was getting second-chance opportunities that could have helped Iowa be more successful.
“I thought we kept attacking,” he said. “We got to the free-throw line 39 times. We executed our stuff. We had really good looks at it. A little disappointed that we didn’t get a few more seconds (opportunities). When you’re struggling making shots, it’s not any easy team to do that against. We got out-rebounded in the second half by seven, and if you look at that, that could be the difference in the game.”
Iowa travels again next week to Virginia Tech as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Although losing to Wichita State was the team’s desired outcome, it could benefit the Hawkeyes later in the season.
“You learn how to play down the stretch and what plays to make,” said Iowa senior Eric May, who led the Hawkeyes with 13 points. “I have complete faith in our guys 1-through-15 and we’re going to move forward. There were a few things that didn’t go our way, but in an environment like this, you travel and have a tough game, we’re just learning constantly how to get better.”
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