Iowa City, Ia. – I’m thinking Coach Steve Alford took his Iowa basketball players to the wrong place at halftime Friday night.
Instead of to the locker room, Alford should have kept Glen Worley, Chauncey Leslie, Jared Reiner and the rest of the guys on the Carver-Hawkeye Arena court so they could have absorbed what was taking place there.
With the main lights in the arena turned off, Iowa’s football players and Coach Kirk Ferentz were dramatically in the spotlight in front of 15,500 roaring fans.
Well, most of them were roaring anyway. Those wearing cardinal-and-gold Iowa State colors weren’t doing much roaring when their team was down by nine points.
Had Alford let his players get jacked up while watching one football player after another march across the floor to receive rave reviews, maybe they wouldn’t have blown a 12-point last-half lead and lost to Iowa State, 73-69.
Obviously, whatever was said at halftime in Iowa’s locker room didn’t work.
Iowa State outscored the Hawkeyes, 25-10, while turning a 50-38 deficit with 16 minutes 46 seconds left in the game into a 63-60 lead with 4:23 remaining.
Of course, there will be cynics who say maybe Alford did the right thing by getting his basketball players away from the football celebration.
Don’t forget, they say, it was Iowa’s football team that let a 24-7 halftime lead slip away in its Sept. 14 loss to Iowa State at nearby Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes wilted under a 23-0 third-quarter onslaught by the Cyclones, and that turned out to be their only loss in a sensational 11-1 season.
Still, Friday night’s halftime show was a thing of beauty, even if Iowa’s last-half performance wasn’t.
One by one, guys like Dallas Clark, Fred Russell, Fred Barr, Bruce Nelson, Bob Sanders, Colin Cole and the rest—anyone who had won an all-America, all-Big Ten, all-academic, all-anything award--walked across what turned out to be center stage.
The biggest roars from the fans were reserved for Coach Kirk Ferentz, who was there, and quarterback Brad Banks, who wasn’t.
Coach of the Year Ferentz brought down the house when he came out. Banks will have to watch the videotape. He was in New York, waiting to see how he fares tonight at the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
For Iowa’s basketball fans, the fun began diminishing shortly after the halftime show ended.
Iowa State took control of the game and made it clear that this could very well turn into the long season for the Hawkeyes that their faithful are dreading.
When Iowa Coach Steve Alford kept calling timeouts late in the game, one of the guys sitting next to me on press row wondered why.
“His team usually plays worse after a timeout than it was playing before the timeout,” the guy said. “I don’t know what he tells them.”
The Cyclones are far from being a Big 12 Conference title contender, but they were clearly the better team Friday when it mattered.
Coach Larry Eustachy, forced to listen to the “Sit down, Larry! Sit down, Larry!” chant from Iowa’s fans while trying to inject some energy into his players early in the game, resembled an Olympic high jumper while leaping off the floor when it was evident his team was going to win.
“This is something that hasn’t been done very often,” Eustachy said of only the fifth victory in 28 Iowa State games at Iowa City. “When they start putting your record against teams in the paper, you get a little paranoid.”
And, he added, “They had an opportunity to bury us early with our timid effort.”
Eustachy said he let guard Jake Sullivan, who wound up leading both teams in scoring with 25 points, deliver most of the halftime speech to the Cyclones.
“I didn’t really say anything—Jake said it all,” Eustachy said. “He really got on the team at halftime. He was really on ‘em when I walked into the locker room. I just kind of listened, then turned around and walked out.
Eustachy, obviously in a giddy mood after the game, even talked about the turtleneck shirts that have become part of his normal attire for games.
“I just walked by an 80-year-old lady, and she whispered to her husband, ‘I wonder if he wears that same stinky shirt for every game,”’ he said. “The problem was, I think it was an Iowa State fan.”
After he gave credit to Sullivan for providing the halftime speech, I said to Eustachy, “Maybe that 80-year-old woman was talking about Sullivan.”
Larry thought it was funny.
At least he laughed after I said it.
Iowa State forward Jackson Vroman, who might as well have stayed on the team bus for the first 35 minutes of the game, broke a 69-69 tie with a three-point play with 20 seconds remaining, and the Cyclones raised improved their record to 6-1.
Vroman was overmatched early in the game, but played his best after drawing his fourth foul.
“I just tried to not think about fouling out,” Vroman said. “I tried to play like I didn’t have any fouls. I didn’t want to play timid. We had guys who stepped up and played better than I did when I was out of the game, and it was nice to step up and make some big plays at the end. We didn’t let the crowd get to us.”
Sullivan said Jackson “might have played the worst 35 minutes of the year, but came out and played great in the last 5 minutes. I was impressed. He might have won us the game.”
Iowa, meanwhile, committed 13 of its 18 turnovers in the last half.
Alford called that “absurd.”
Sullivan tried his best to convince reporters that Savannah State, Sunday’s opponent at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, should throw plenty of fear into the Cyclones.
“It’s going to be big,” he said. “Finals week is coming up, but we can’t overlook Savannah State. They’re a very good team. If you overlook anyone at the Division I level you’re likely to get beat.”
Iowa (6-2) doesn’t play again until Liberty comes to town for a Dec. 22 game. I’ll probably spend the rest of the weekend pondering which opponent sounds more powerful, Savannah State or Liberty.
In the event you’re wondering, Liberty is a school from Lynchburg, Va., that had a 5-25 record last season. Savannah State, located in Savannah, Ga., was 2-26.
No wonder games such as Iowa/Iowa State, Iowa/Drake, Iowa State/Drake, Iowa/Northern Iowa, Iowa State/Northern Iowa and Drake/Northern Iowa are such a treasure.
“You play games like (the Iowa State game) to get lessons,” Alford said. “I think the lesson we got is that we’re not as tough as they are.
“We have nine days to sit on this, and the guys will get tough through this stretch because they have finals and they have to deal with me after losing this way.”
So what do the Hawkeyes have to deal with?
“Finals and loose ball drills,” Alford said. “It isn’t going to be the easiest week coming up.” Alford added that his team “has to look at how fine a margin there is between success and failure. We’re not going to run away from anybody, and I think there are very few teams that can run away from us.”
Vol. 2, No. 110
Dec. 14, 2002
[Ron Maly’s e-mail address is email@example.com ]