NIT title out of Iowa’s reach
NEW YORK – Iowa got off to a slow start and some late improvement wasn’t enough to pull the Hawkeyes out of the hole they found themselves in.
Their performance in the NIT title game made a good analogy for their season, too.
Baylor’s Pierre Jackson capped his career in style with his fourth straight double-double, putting up 17 points and 10 assists to lead the Bears to the first NIT title in school history with a 74-54 win over Iowa on Thursday night.
Mike Gesell scored 13 points and Aaron White added 12 to lead Iowa (25-13). Hawkeyes star Devyn Marble was held to six points. The Hawkeyes shot 26.1 percent from the floor, and were 5 for 24 from 3-point range.
They had 20 offensive rebounds, as several possessions in the second half resulted in two or three misses from close in before Baylor got hold of the ball and went the other way with it.
“I think that’s the hardest thing in the locker room because they’re down, they’re upset,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “They know they didn’t play well, we didn’t play well and what I tried to do was take it off them a little bit and say ‘Look, I didn’t do a good enough job.’ We’re all in this together. Nothing will take away from the fact that we won 25 games.”
Cory Jefferson scored 23 points and Isaiah Austin had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Bears (23-14), who lost in the tournament final to Penn State in 2009.
Jackson, the point guard who transferred to Baylor from the College of Southern Idaho before his junior season, was a shoo-in as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
You can put his numbers up with any guard in the country,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “The bigger the stage, the bigger the moment, the bigger – better – he performs.”
Baylor reached the title game with a disjointed, but ultimately winning, effort against BYU in Tuesday night’s semifinal. The Bears looked much more complete on Thursday night, combining their offensive fluency with a pesky defense led by senior guard A.J. Walton that pressured Iowa on the edge and thwarted them inside with a tangle of long arms and legs. Austin had five of Baylor’s seven blocked shots.
“We’re a driving team, we get to the free throw line more typically, and we just didn’t do that tonight,” McCaffery said.
Baylor got off to a roaring start, but Iowa managed to hang within striking distance for the rest of the first half and for the start of the second.
Jefferson threw down two rattling dunks in the first eight minutes of the half as the Bears slowly pulled away. Eric May’s layup 2 1/2 minutes into the half cut Baylor’s lead to a point, but Baylor got a couple of rattling dunks by Jefferson and a big 3-pointer by Jackson to make it 42-31 less than four minutes later.
After using a fast start and its characteristically tough defense to beat Maryland in the semifinal, Iowa began the second half on the wrong foot and spent most of the period just trying to keep pace. The Hawkeyes began the second half almost completely unable to make a basket, missing eight of their first 10 shots and 11 of 14 after the break, while Baylor pushed its lead to double digits.
Iowa kept it close in the first half, going into the break down only five points despite being outshot 44 percent to 25 percent.
Just reaching the semifinals, let alone the title game, was a first for Iowa’s program.
Walton left with cramping in his legs after colliding with May with about three minutes to play. Shortly after that, May came out of the game and the Iowa fans at Madison Square Garden gave him an ovation and chanted his name as he sat on the bench. He won’t be back next season, but the Hawkeyes return most of the rest of the roster that finished strong in the Big Ten and won 11 of 14 before coming up short at Madison Square Garden.
Now they’ve got a long offseason to regroup and work improve for next season, when they should be a more seasoned bunch and have their eyes on the NCAA tournament.
“There’s just no substitute for experience,” McCaffery said. “You can’t rush it.”