Iowa CITY, Ia. Nearly an hour and a half after completing one of the bigger upsets of the college basketball season, Jarryd Cole stood around with family and friends in an almost empty Carver-Hawkeye Arena. They laughed and hugged and soaked it up. It was well deserved.
"Jarryd Cole won't let this team get down," McCaffery said. "He won't let them give up on each other or themselves. The guys really came with the right attitude ready to work, and that's a reflection on Jarryd Cole and his leadership and what he does in the locker room, what he says privately, because he's got phenomenal credibility when he opens his mouth to his teammates."
Cole hit a key shot down the stretch and left every ounce of his energy here on the Carver court Saturday in leading Iowa to a 67-65 win against No.6 Purdue. The Hawkeyes beat a Top 25 team for the first time since knocking off sixth-ranked Michigan State in 2008.
Iowa finished the Big Ten regular season with a 4-14 league mark and head to next weeks' conference tournament at 11-19. Last year, the Hawkeyes were 4-14 and 10-22. The difference in how the two campaign felt was night and day.
Carver was rocking on Saturday. The fans helped the home team. The crowd stormed the court. Fun had returned.
There's not need to bash McCaffery's predecessors. It's time to look ahead. And maybe, just maybe, the decade plus curse of Iowa men's basketball is lifting.
None of us know where it's headed. The glass-half-full folks feel like the corner has been turned. The half-empty crowd reminds harshly skeptical. It has to play out.
Hawkeye fans can hope that Saturday's win propels the program much like Iowa's 2000 football win became a stepping stone to being a player on the national landscape. That represents the last time the guys on the gridiron failed to become bowl eligible.
Cole certainly could play the role of guys like Matt Bowen and LeVar Woods. Those players helped construct the foundation for the football program.
The fact that Iowa played its heart out until the final buzzer of the regular season gives fans hope that things are turning around. Cole showed them. So did McCaffery.
Indiana has packed it in on Tom Crean. Heck, the Hawkeyes packed it in the last few years. Again, the vibe here on Saturday was fun, something sorely lacking in this building for much of the last decade.
And the Hawkeye crowds have been good this season. No, fans haven't filled the place. But the ones that showed up were loud and helped the almost upsets of Ohio State and Wisconsin and the payoff on Saturday.
"We were close so many times this year and we used that as motivation," Iowa's Matt Gatens said.
That's a great sign. There's wasn't a collective hanging of heads. There aren't rumors of players transferring.
What there is now is hope. That's a great start. That's something on which to build.
Cole will be sorely missed. He's playing his best basketball now. Everybody else returns, however, and Iowa will add recruits Aaron White and Josh Oglesby plus McCaffery hopes a few in the late signing period.
And it's not over yet. Iowa will play either Penn State and Michigan State at the Big Ten Tournament Thursday. Confidence has got to be sky high and you never know what can happen in a one-and-done setting, as Iowa fans know.