DAYTON, Ohio - Zach McCabe slumped against a locker trying to gather himself. Disappointment overcame him. It was over.
A once prominent season disintegrated into six losses in seven games coming into Wednesday's NCAA Tournament game. Instead of reversing the trend, Iowa suffered from similar shortcomings.
The Hawkeyes have made a habit of letting leads slip away. It happened again here at the University of Dayton Arena courtesy of the familiar defensive breakdowns, untimely turnovers and inconsistent shooting. Wednesday, they stretched the agony into overtime.
That's where they scored one point to Tennessee's 14. Iowa lost 78-65 in a first-round game it first trailed in with three minutes remaining in regulation. It led by 12 midway through the first half.
The Hawkeyes played with the energy they lacked often during their recent troubles. Early, they looked like the guys that ascended to a No. 10 national ranking in January. They pressed. They pushed the ball. They had fun.
The Vols spoiled Iowa's plans by slowing the pace, which they preferred. The Hawkeyes fought. They just weren't a team gifted in half-court, on-ball defense, rotating there, helping each other or communicating this season. Calling their shooting inconsistent might be too kind.
"We came out really well but in the second half of the season, what went wrong, happened in this game. We couldn't get the stops necessary. It's just frustrating" Iowa Junior Aaron White said.
Sophomore Center Adam Woodbury said Iowa played for their seniors and their coach, Fran McCaffery, whose son underwent surgery Wednesday morning to remove a potentially cancerous tumor from his thyroid. The effort was spirited. It just couldn't disguise their deficiencies.
"I feel sad for the seniors that don't get another shot at this. I wish we could have gotten the win," Woodbury said.
McCabe and his classmates, Roy Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe, helped resurrect a Iowa program on life support when they and McCaffery arrived four years ago. Wednesday showed that there's more work to be done.
Encouraging signs for the future emerged, however. Woodbury posted team-highs in points (16) and rebounds (8) on a big stage against a physical Tennessee front line. Freshman Peter Jok looked composed off of the bench with 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting from the floor, including 2 of 3 from behind the three-point arc. Jarrod Uthoff scored six and appeared comfortable and confident, something that hadn't always been the case in his first college season.
Marble played strong defense on Tennessee's leading scorer, Jordan McRae, who needed 15 shots to score 20 points, six of which came from the foul line. The Iowa senior never got in a rhythm with his shot, missing 12 of 15 attempts from the floor, on a night that saw him run the point guard position more than he had for most of the season.
"I think everybody came out and competed. We played with a high energy level. Sometimes shots don't fall. Me and Josh (Oglesby) kind of struggled to knock down shots. That's going to happen. But you can't say we didn't compete. It's upsetting and disappointing. At the same time, I'm not furious because I feel like the team played hard. We just came up short," Marble said.
And that was the last mark the seniors left as their legacy for a program that went 4-14 during Big Ten play their freshmen season. The leaders before them (Jarryd Cole, Matt Gatens and Eric May) showed them how to guide and they took the next step by returning the program to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since '06.
McCabe finally got to his feet after many of the locker room interviews ended here Wednesday night. Still visibly shaken, he reflected on what it took to get to this point.
"Everybody on this team has character. That only helps things. We've been positive throughout this whole thing (losing and McCaffery family issues). We're a family. We knew we had to help each other get through this. It's an accomplishment in itself to get to this tournament. These guys coming back have an opportunity to make it better. I think they will."