Iowa men’s basketball team focused on becoming ‘last one standing’ in close games

The Hawkeyes have lost four of their last five games, with three of those losses coming by five points or fewer.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa guard CJ Fredrick dribbles during a men’s basketball game between Iowa and Minnesota at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Golden Gophers, 86-71.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

The Iowa men’s basketball team’s Jan. 2 victory over Rutgers in New Jersey is an example of what the Hawkeyes haven’t done consistently lately.

Rutgers led that game as late as the 35-second mark of the second half, and the game was tied with only 16 seconds remaining. But Iowa, despite being down starter Connor McCaffery for all but three minutes of the contest, hit the shots and made the defensive stops necessary down the stretch to win.

No. 15 Iowa’s (13-6 overall, 7-5 Big Ten) 6:30 p.m. rematch with Rutgers (11-6, 7-6) on Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena serves as an opportunity for the Hawkeyes, who have lost four of their last five games, to get back to winning tightly contested games.

“It’s one of those things where we kept fighting and we kept fighting,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said of the first meeting between the teams. “The same was true in our losses [since then]. We were fighting. We’re just trying to be in a situation where we’re the last one standing.”

Aside from a 12-point defeat to Indiana on Jan. 21, three of Iowa’s last four losses have come by five points or fewer. After a six-point home win over Michigan State on Feb. 2 to snap a two-game losing skid, Iowa has lost its last two games by a combined six points.

Against Ohio State on Feb. 4, Iowa held an 11-point second-half lead but couldn’t close out the game, eventually losing by four.

In the team’s most recent loss to Indiana on Sunday, Jordan Bohannon tied the game with a clutch 3-pointer with 27 seconds to play. But the next time down the court, the Hawkeyes gave up a Hoosiers basket with only one second remaining and lost by two.

“I think it’s a lot of things,” Connor McCaffery said of Iowa losing close games. “A little bit of it is get a bounce here, get a call, maybe that changes things. To a certain extent, it’s better execution down the stretch, better player personnel — knowing who does what — and then just finishing out possessions.”

Along with losing close, competitive games, another theme from Iowa’s slump is C.J. Fredrick’s absence from the lineup.

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The sharpshooting sophomore guard from Cincinnati, Ohio, did not play in the second half of Iowa’s first game against Indiana and has only played 11 minutes since then because of a lower leg injury.

As for what he brings to the Hawkeyes, a pair of McCafferys weighed in:

“He’s our best perimeter defender and he’s the best shooter in the Big Ten,” Fran McCaffery said. “So, you’re going to miss that guy.”

“He’s a dynamic scorer, he can score at all three levels,” Connor McCaffery said. “He’s a good defender. He brings another deadly 3-point shooter into the lineup. He’s able to go for 20 points any night. Just another thing defenses have to worry about. He opens things up for Luka [Garza] because he creates more space.”

Fran McCaffery said on his video conference Tuesday that the plan is for Fredrick, who led the Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage as a freshman last season (46.1 percent), to play against Rutgers. But that plan could change as Fredrick remains day to day, and McCaffery said likely will for the remainder of the season.

Whether Fredrick plays or not, Iowa is faced with the most adversity it has faced at any point this season. For the first time since the preseason rankings were announced, the Hawkeyes are not a top-10 team.

For a team with aspirations of making a deep NCAA Tournament run, Iowa is focused on correcting its late-game falters.

First on Wednesday against Rutgers. Then Saturday in a rematch with Michigan State in East Lansing. Then on the road against Wisconsin, and so on down the rest of the team’s loaded conference schedule.

“There’s two ways we can look at this,” said freshman forward Keegan Murray, who has started in Fredrick’s absence. “We can either have our heads down and mope about it, feel sorry for ourselves, or we can go out with the mindset that we’re still the team we felt like we could be at the beginning of the year and that we’ve shown we can be. And that’s something that we all believe in right now, and we’re going to try and get back into the win column this week.”