IOWA CITY — Zach McCabe might be Iowa’s hardest player.
When it’s time for a hard screen, an attention-getting foul or dive for a loose ball, McCabe is that guy for the Hawkeyes. He also happens to have one of the team’s softer shooting touches.
When Indiana State lollygagged into a technical foul for six men on the floor Wednesday night, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery called on the 6-7, 235-pound junior.
McCabe swished both and then made back-to-back 3-pointers to fuel Iowa’s 19-4 run and help the Hawkeyes into the second round of the National Invitation Tournament, 68-52, over the Sycamores. McCabe finished with those eight points, but it was well-timed and spelled the beginning of the end.
“Zach is a guy I’m going to keep going to,” McCaffery said. “Perfect foul shooter, that’s why I put him in there to shoot the T’s. The great thing about him, before he made those 3s, he missed a couple. He’s going to have his hands and feet ready and he’s going to fire and he’s going to make them.”
When he doesn’t make the 3-pointer, McCabe brings value in paint presence. It’s kind of been McCabe’s role since he arrived on campus from Sioux City Heelan, but when 7-1 center Adam Woodbury arrived, McCabe had to define that role further while coming off the bench.
He started the first seven games this season, but went to the bench when McCaffery started sorting through point guards in December. McCabe, who started 30 games at center last season, has taken a smaller-picture view of the game and what he needs to be for Iowa as a reserve.
“I know my role is to come in and provide energy, play smart, get rebounds and take my shot if it’s open,” said McCabe, who went into Wednesday shooting 30 percent (24 of 80) from the arc. “I do whatever coach wants and the team needs. Just bring energy and toughness.”
Toughness remains somewhat elusive for the Hawkeyes. It made a difference in their defeat to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament. When freshman guard Anthony Clemmons was hit with a five-second call in the second half, McCaffery loudly reminded him to “toughen up.” Twice. At close range. Pretty loudly, too.
“My dad always told me growing up, the tougher guy is always going to be the better guy,” McCabe said. “I’ve learned that we need a tough guy on the floor sometimes. I think I provide that and I think it provides leadership.”
Wednesday night, it all started with a pair of free throws after a technical foul. McCabe isn’t Iowa’s usual shooter on technicals.
“I can make my free throws,” said McCabe, who’s 75 percent free throw percentage is tied for fourth on the team. “Coach put me in, so I knew I had to make them.”
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