By Ben Schuff
The Iowa men’s basketball team was tested on Thursday for the first time this season.
Iowa’s game against Boise State on Thursday marked the first time all year head coach Fran McCaffery’s squad played in a contest decided by fewer than 10 points.
The Hawkeyes passed that test by beating the Broncos, 81-72.
Neither team built a lead greater than five in the game’s first 14 minutes, the score was tied at 33 at halftime, and Boise State trailed by only six points with just under four minutes left in the game.
But the back-and-forth battle was exactly what McCaffery was hoping for as his team played its final non-conference game of the season.
“As I looked at this game, part of me said, ‘I don’t want to see Boise State in my life right now.’ We’re trying to get some confidence,” McCaffery said. “But the reality is that’s sort of exactly what we needed. We needed a test tonight. We needed somebody to come in here — you him them, they hit you back, you hit them, they hit you back. That’s what our league is, night in and night out. We had to gut one out.”
Entering Thursday’s showdown against Boise State, Iowa was one of two teams — Missouri being the other — from the six power conferences that hadn’t played in a game decided by single-digits. The Hawkeyes played in five games decided by fewer than 10 points by this time last year, and won two of those matchups.
Forward Melsahn Basabe said the team’s victory over Boise State was important in more areas than the win column, although it did earn the Hawkeyes their second three-game winning streak of the year.
“It can show us the format of how to win a game,” Basabe said. ”Every Big Ten game, you’re not going to just blow a Big Ten team out. That had been our struggle — we can blow teams out, but if a team hangs around, sometimes we don’t have the mental focus to last out. That’s what every Big Ten game is, a game like tonight where its whose going to last the longest.
“It’s a heavyweight match.”
Basabe also said the game was a good experience for Iowa’s freshman before the Hawkeyes open up league play against Purdue on Dec. 28. Four of the Black and Gold’s first six conference games will be against teams currently ranked in the top-25.
“We’ve played some good teams, but now they’re going to be top-tier teams,” he said. ”Now the guards are 6-7, 6-8. Now the big men aren’t undersized 4-men — they’re 6-10 guys who are heavy. There are NBA prospects in this conference. It’s just another level — but we’re talented enough and I think we’re ready for it.”
McCaffery said he’ll give his players three days off for the holidays they come back to Iowa City for practice on Dec. 26. The second-year head coach added he still wanted his guys to “get after it when they’re home,” whether that be on a bike or doing some stretching.
Numerous players said they intend to do just that, and few had some additional plans of their own.
“Right now, I’m just trying to get home so I can buy these Jordan Retro XI Concords,” guard Devyn Marble said. “Just Google them. You might like them, too. You might want to buy a pair.”