IOWA CITY, Ia. - Fran McCaffery steered clear of calling a it a benchmark win. He dodged labeling it a turning-the-corner-game.
The Iowa coach did the right thing. No sense in getting caught up in the emotions of Tuesday's 51-39 win here against Northern Iowa. He's become quite familiar with the rebuilding project he's inherited and knows tough road remains.
"What I'm trying to do is get our program better," McCaffery said. "I don't look at bench mark wins. I don't look at signature wins. I don't look at it that it's more important because it's in-state. Everybody else is going to do that. I understand that."
McCaffery wasn't downplaying the win just how it fits into the big picture. On this night, the Hawkeyes won an in-state game in front of a relatively large crowd of 10,667 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
There were days when a win against Northern Iowa usually was a given. No more. The teams came into Tuesday's tilt having split their last 10 meetings. The Panthers reached the Sweet 16 last season. The Hawkeyes last made it in 1999.
And, let's be honest, this isn't the UNI team that upset Kansas in last year's NCAA Tournament. The Panthers lost serious firepower off that team.
One of the questionable areas for Northern Iowa Coach is inside, where Lucas O'Rear and Jake Koch now are starters after coming off the bench a year ago. McCaffery knew that and got the ball to his post players Tuesday night.
"They were able to go up and get some basketballs off of some missed shots and that certainly helped them get some points on the board," said Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson, who several times mentioned Iowa's rebounding being the difference in the game.
McCaffery also confused UNI by changing defenses. The Panthers' star guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe scored 11 in the first half but was held without a point after the intermission.
"The credit goes to Iowa," Jacobson said. "I thought their quarter-court man was good and Fran did a good job of changing their defenses and that had us off balance a bit."
McCaffery's plan worked. His players executed it.
The thing that I liked about the post-game here on Tuesday is that nobody was doing cartwheels into the media room. They were pleased with their effort and win, which they should have been. But the players shared the same attitude as their coach - we want more.
"It feels like basketball to me," said Cole when asked how this win felt to him after the lows he's seen in his career. "It's a business. As a player, you have to buy into it. I bought into it and the fellas did. If we keep doing that, we'll get some more wins."
That's the right approach. Nice win. Act like it should happen. Move on.