IOWA CITY — Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery wanted toughness when it mattered. Sunday, he got it from the players he knows best.
With the Hawkeyes trailing by seven points early in the second half and every bounce going in Nebraska-Omaha’s favor, Iowa needed stops on defense and points on offense. McCaffery looked to his upperclassmen, and they provided the necessary resolve in an 83-75 victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
McCaffery called it a “Zach McCabe game,” and McCabe provided 12 points, including five from the free-throw line. Senior Melsahn Basabe powered through with nine rebounds, two blocks and seven points. As always it was an Aaron White game, and the junior scored 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.
“You need your tough guys in a game like this late,” McCaffery said.
Basabe was instrumental in igniting Iowa’s second-half comeback. After halftime he had five points and five boards in 11 minutes. Most of all, he was unselfish and provided leadership.
“There (are) things I can control: that’s my energy and that’s being a good defender and that’s controlling the boards,” Basabe said. “I put everything else to the side, scoring touches and all the intricate stuff and said just let me do the two things I know I could dominate in and just bring the energy up.”
Iowa (2-0) trailed 61-56 with less than 10 minutes remaining when White and teammate Jarrod Uthoff and Aaron White each knocked down a pair of free throws to bring the Hawkeyes within one point. Iowa started pressing the Mavericks, and Devyn Marble stole a pass at midcourt. Marble passed ahead to Anthony Clemmons, who scored on a layup to give Iowa its first lead since 14:07 left in the first half.
Nebraska-Omaha (1-1) kept coming, however. Guard C.J. Carter knocked down a jumper to retake the lead. Iowa took a three-point advantage on a White basket and a Uthoff free throw, but Carter drained a 3-pointer to tie it back up.
The Hawkeyes took the lead for good on its next possession. Clemmons drilled a 3-pointer from the corner with 5:54 left to move ahead 69-66. Uthoff scored a layup on the next possession to push Iowa ahead five. The spurt ignited a 9-2 run and put Iowa in control.
Clemmons played 25 minutes and scored 11 points.
“It was a shot we needed at the moment,” said Clemmons, who scored 11 points in 25 minutes. “It was just a big-time play that I made, and I’ve said it before: I put myself in the category of a big-time player and a player that is needed on this team now that Josh (Oglesby) is gone. I stepped up and made a big play.”
That Iowa needed to rally at all was perplexing. Nebraska-Omaha was focused and determined in the first half, pulling down nine offensive rebounds and scoring on seven of those possessions. UNO picked up 15 second-chance points and 16 points off Iowa’s 12 turnovers.
UNO also scored on multiple banked shots in the first half, something that had Iowa players shaking their heads.
“It was just one of those games, man,” White said. “The ball was bouncing their way and making some tough shots. They were playing with confidence because we were letting them play with confidence. I’m just proud of our team that we were able to stick with it and get the win.”
Iowa shored up its rebounding in the second half and attacked the basket. Iowa shot 49 free throws and made 38. UNO made just 11-of-16 in the game.
“We told them at the 12-minute timeout, guarding the bounce and rebounding will be the biggest two things here, and I think those are the two things that played into them getting over the hump,” UNO Coach Derrin Hansen said.
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