DAYTON, Ohio -- Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery walked off the court and his players followed in unison. With emotions drained from the most stressful day in McCaffery's career, the Hawkeyes fought but ultimately fell short of their goal of winning an NCAA tournament game.
McCaffery spent the morning in Iowa City as his son, Patrick, had surgery to remove a tumor on his thyroid. He returned to Dayton early afternoon, then watched his team end their season 78-65 in overtime to Tennessee. It was the Hawkeyes' first NCAA appearance in eight years, and it was a quick exit.
The game followed a similar, excruciating script for Iowa this year. Get a double-digit, first-half lead, then watch it slip away. But unlike the team's waning effort against Northwestern last week, the Hawkeyes fought through each possession. In the end it was too much of Tennessee's tandem of Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes, who combined for 38 points.
Tennessee's Stokes led off overtime with a three-point play to put the Volunteers ahead 67-64. McRae followed with a drive one possession later to push Tennessee's lead to five points. Iowa failed to score on four of its first five possessions and Tennessee cruised int the extra period. It was too much to overcome.
The loss ended Iowa's season at 20-13 and with it ended the careers of three pivotal seniors: Devyn Marble, Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe. McCabe fouled out with 1:17 left in overtime.
Every time Tennessee closed in on Iowa in the second half, the Hawkeyes answered. Tennessee knotted up the game at 37-37 with 14:53 left on a Josh Richardson 3-pointer. Iowa returned the score with an Adam Woodbury basket. When Richardson -- who scored 10 consecutive points -- delivered a posterizing dunk, Iowa's Aaron White responded with a pair of free throws.
When Antonio Barton drilled a a 3-pointer to give the Volunteers their first lead, a struggling Marble delivered a three-point play to take it right back. When Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes knocked down two free throws, Woodbury countered with a shot off the glass.
When Iowa needed a shot, Marble came through. With Tennessee leading 64-62, Marble dropped a step-back jumper with 17.9 seconds left to tie the game. Then Marble defended Tennessee's McRae on the final shot, which was off to force overtime.
The Hawkeyes led by 12 points midway though the first half, then sat through a tough scoring drought. It proved costly.
A nearly flawless first-half unraveled in a late slump. The Hawkeyes shot 52.2 percent from the field but were empty from their final five possessions spanning the final 3:39. Tennessee took advantage with a 7-0 run and reclaim momentum.
The first half could not have started better for Iowa. The Hawkeyes burst to a 13-2 lead inside of the game's first seven minutes. Iowa scored the first eight points and pushed the lead to 11 points on a McCabe 3-pointer. For most of the half, every time Tennessee clawed back within double digits, Iowa extended it.
McRae completed back-to-back three-point plays, then Jarrod Uthoff answered with a pair of baskets. Tennessee's Stokes dunked, and Peter Jok sank a 3-pointer.
But late in the half, Tennessee surged and Iowa slumped. Devyn Marble scored his first basket with 3:39 left to give Iowa a 29-19 advantage. Tennessee's Armani scored on a jumper in the lane. Jeronne Maymon added a pair of free throws and Stokes added one. Then at the buzzer, McRae hit a shot to bring the Volunteers within 29-26.Woodbury led Iowa with 16 points and eight rebounds. Peter Jok added 10 points. Marble, an all-Big Ten selection, scored just seven points on 3-of-15 shooting.