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Iowa defensive woes troubling, but not permanent

Scott Dochterman, CR Gazette –

BLACKSBURG, Va. — There’s concern, but not dismay, over Iowa’s defensive performance in Tuesday’s 95-79 loss at Virginia Tech.

The Hawkeyes (5-2) appeared to revert to bad habits that plagued the team a season ago. The Hokies (6-0) shot 52.5 percent from the field and outpaced the Hawkeyes in transition play. Virginia Tech also was dominant in second-chance opportunities, outscoring Iowa 13-2. Iowa’s post players got into foul trouble early and struggled to match the Hokies’ athletic ability.

While the players know they could have played better, Iowa sophomore Aaron White said Tuesday’s defensive effort was an aberration. He said it does not mean the Hawkeyes have returned to last year’s bad habits, when the team gave up an average of 72.5 points a game.

“We haven’t had that problem so far this year,” White said. “So far we’ve been locked in defensively. We’ve been following the game plan. I think we’ve been a pretty good defensive team this season to be honest with you.”

Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said the team doesn’t need to readjust its priorities. It’s more about execution at both ends of the floor.

“We did it (the defensive lapses) with a lot of young players on the floor, and we hope that they learn from it,” McCaffery said. “The unfortunate thing is we had some experienced guys on the floor that were breaking down. I thought we were beyond that.”

McCaffery was most troubled with the team’s defensive breakdowns midway through the second half. The Hawkeyes went on a 16-2 run and cut a 15-point deficit to three points. The Hokies twice got to the free-throw line on consecutive possessions, including one where Iowa junior Zach McCabe threw a hip into Virginia Tech guard Robert Brown during a layup. That turned into a three-point play and took the Hokies back up to eight points.

During the deciding stretch where Virginia Tech scored on 13-of-15 possessions, Iowa missed four 3-pointers and didn’t pick up an offensive rebound. That directly led to four Virginia Tech fast breaks, and the Hokies scored nine points on those possessions.

“At that point, as tough as we were in that stretch when we went on the 16-2 run, we needed to be even tougher, and we weren’t,” McCaffery said.

Iowa junior Devyn Marble said the team suffered from “a drop in intensity” on defense. But improving on defense is more about attitude than revisiting fundamentals.

“Just get back to how we started off the year,” Marble said. “We were mentally focused, we were tuned in, excited, we played together. We’ve just got to get back to that.”


Iowa freshman point guard Anthony Clemmons earned significant playing time Tuesday, and his production was solid. Clemmons played 16 minutes, including 11 after halftime. He scored nine points, dished two assists, had a steal and one turnover. He also fouled out.

“I just wanted to come out and give my team a boost once again,” Clemmons said. “Every time I come into a game I want to contribute and give us a boost off the bench, come in with energy and go in and attack it.”

Clemmons was surprised he fouled out; he thought he only had four when he was whistled for his fifth.

“I didn’t think I had a foul in the first half,” he said. “Stuff like that, it happens. That was one thing my high school coach told me, if you’re fouling out, you must be playing aggressive I tried to play aggressive and get after it on defense.”

He also provided a spark offensively. He drilled a 3-point to keep Iowa within one point with four minutes before halftime. He helped whittle Iowa’s deficit during the 16-2 run with a drive to the basket. He later hit a pair of free throws and a jumper to keep the Hawkeyes close before the defense collapsed.

“He really fought defensively,” McCaffery said. “He played intelligent offense. He attacked the basket, he took what was there; he didn’t force anything. He did not play like a freshman.”

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