NEW YORK — Fran McCaffery screamed at his Iowa basketball players during a timeout four minutes into Thursday night’s NIT title game, and yelled at them on the way off the court at halftime.
Bob Knight, doing color commentary for ESPN’s telecast of the contest, might have even blanched at McCaffery’s intense anger. Or maybe not.
But the coach’s fury was muted as the second half progressed and reality took hold. There was no putting the Baylor Bears to sleep in the second half. They sailed to a 74-54 win.
It was the opposite of the national television showcase Iowa had sought. The Hawkeyes played like Midwest mules against the too-big, too-quick, too-long, too-aggressive Bears of the Big 12.
Madison Square Garden has seen a lot of unforgettable basketball games over the decades. This wasn’t one. This was the Knicks on a good night against the Charlotte Bobcats on a typical night.
There wasn’t a 2-foot shot the Hawkeyes couldn’t miss in the second half, and Baylor ran away. Iowa had bunny after bunny near the basket, but turned them into brick after brick.
“I think we probably quick-shotted a few times,” McCaffery said. From point-blank range, Iowa quick-shot and mis-shot itself in the foot. Repeatedly.
The Hawkeyes looked unsure of themselves the entire night. Baylor’s nine steals and seven blocked shots gave Iowa high anxiety.
The Bears, meanwhile, were dancing and laughing in pregame warm-ups. Senior guard A.J. Walton must have patted the officials on their backsides a half-dozen times before the game and at halftime. He and his teammates were loose. The Hawkeyes were glum.
Maybe both squads watched considerable tape of each other and knew the horrific matchup that awaited the Hawkeyes.
Baylor 7-foot-1 freshman Isaiah Austin had the Hawkeyes unnerved all game. Austin blocked five shots and had his way on the offensive end. He probably made himself some money Thursday. He is an NBA lottery pick-in-waiting.
I counted Baylor with 11 dunks. Iowa had one. Hawkeye hands seldom got that close to the cylinder against Baylor’s bigs.
So, this was a rotten curtain-closer. But this NIT run was fun while it lasted, and surely valuable to the future of Iowa’s growing program.
What is required for taking another big step forward next season, McCaffery said, is “nothing complicated.”
He mentioned individual skill-development sessions, strength and conditioning, and the extra practices allowed because the Hawkeyes have a European trip this summer.
“We’ll incorporate (transfer) Jarrod Uthoff and (incoming freshman) Peter Jok,” McCaffery said, “and I think what we’ll do is enter the season next year with a tremendous focus and concentration knowing what we’re capable of, but also knowing some of the things that we didn’t do that we now have to get out and do.”
It was a nice four-fifths of an NIT for the Hawkeyes, but freshman center Adam Woodbury succinctly said what all Iowa fans will think from here on out.
“We definitely don’t want to play in this tournament again.”