IOWA CITY — Sure, it was a basketball game that was a lot more rattle than hum.
Iowa doesn’t have an abundance of half-court offense, and Penn State has less. Put that together, and you don’t have the ingredients for a classic. The meeting of the two Thursday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena had the flow of the Iowa River on a night with a vicious windchill.
But the Hawkeyes prevailed, 76-67, over the Nittany Lions team that now is 0-9 in the Big Ten. Any win is a big win when you came in 2-5 in the conference and face trips to Minnesota Sunday and Wisconsin three days later.
Iowa made 31 of 39 free throws, and let’s call that the story of the game. Why not? Foul-shooting is an eroding art in college basketball, and the Hawkeyes need to keep making freebies, among other things, if they are to win in Minneapolis or Madison.
But before you go too ho-hum over this expected Iowa triumph, hey, 76 points and enough aggression to get 39 foul shots.
January reminded us Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Hawkeyes have offensive shortcomings to shore up before they’re taken seriously inside the Big Ten. Still, 76 points. And, real basketball players with genuine potential.
The 2-5 Big Ten start led to understandable frustration, but look at who Iowa played and where it played them. Put its last eight conference games in the first eight dates of the league schedule, and today there would be giddiness about the Hawkeyes being in the higher altitude of the league standings.
“They’ve got big-time players,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said with conviction after the game, as if he were trying to make sure Iowa fans and media understood the Hawkeyes are pointed in the right direction.
“Aaron White’s a great player.”
Sophomore forward White had a career-high 27 points. One mark of a good player is when he or she kind of quietly posts a whopping point total. Instead of hitting some sort of wall in the dog days of winter, White played 34 minutes Thursday.
That’s what top players do when it’s required.
Junior power forward Melsahn Basabe is becoming a top player. He has averaged 10 points over the last six games, 9 rebounds over the last three. He hadn’t started a game all season after 52 starts in his first two seasons, but McCaffery could wait no longer.
Into the starting lineup Basabe went Thursday, with no drop in production. He was an authority figure, to put it mildly. He had 10 rebounds, 10 points, 10 free-throw attempts.
“He’s been a beast,” Chambers said.
“I felt like he had earned the right to start,” said McCaffery.
“He’s been very efficient. He makes his free throws. He sticks his nose in the glass. And defensively, he’s just so far ahead of what he used to be.
“He used to hurt us defensively … He was in the wrong place a lot. That’s why he was fouling. Now he’s in the right place.”
McCaffery wasn’t bubbly after the game, and certainly wasn’t down the stretch when his team wheezed down the stretch as its 15-point lead was shaved to 7.
This wasn’t a game for bubbly. This was one to put in the win-column and move along. Next week is big.