CEDAR FALLS, Iowa - Iowa came out on Tuesday with more fight than it had shown all season. Then, the Hawkeyes lost their cool.
Trailing rival Northern Iowa 47-45 midway though the second half, the visitors were whistled for three technical fouls in a row pushing their deficit to 10. They never recovered.
It's a shame because Iowa could have come away from the McLeod Center with its most impressive victory of the season. Instead, they lost to a Missouri Valley Conference team for the second time this year.
The Hawkeyes aren't talented enough to overcome their coaches losing their cool. That's what happened in an 80-60 loss.
Head Coach Fran McCaffery went crazy when officials called an offensive foul on starting center Zach McCabe. Assistants Kirk Speraw and Andrew Francis also were shouting at referees and the Iowa bench picked up its first technical foul.
McCaffery knocked a row of cups off the scorer's table that traveled into the stands. He then found an official to scream at and received his technical. He'd later get another T and was dismissed from the game with about five minutes to play.
It's great to show passion, of which McCaffery and his staff boast plenty. Yeah, it sucks that they're shooting 13 free throws to your four at that point. Yes, you need to stick up for yourself and your team.
Then, there's going overboard. That was the case here on Tuesday.
McCaffery refused to talk about the technicals in his post-game press conference. He said he only would speak on his team and its performance despite being asked several questions about how the ruckus affected his squad.
When someone asked him to comment on his team shooting 20 less free throws than UNI made, he answered sarcastically,"Really? I didn't notice that. How about that? Interesting statistic."
McCaffery knows what he's doing. He boasts and excellent resume. Maybe he can use this incident to his advantage going forward.
It didn't work well on Tuesday, however. The players followed the lead of the coaches, which usually is a good thing. Shortly after the staff got two Ts, McCabe gets whistled for a technical for punching the ball out of bounds when called for a foul on the next play.
"Coach is real competitive and he's going to fight for us," Senior Captain Matt Gatens said. "He was sticking up for us, but it's unfortunate that it went down like that. They hit like eight free throws in a row. It's tough to come back from that."
Gatens said he and Speraw tried to keep the Hawkeyes' heads in the game after McCaffery was sent to the locker room.
"They shot the ball well after that happened," Gatens said. "Things seemed to go downhill after that."
UNI forward Jake Koch was asked how the scene helped his team. The crowd became louder during the technical barrage.
"I don't know what was going on," Koch said. "I'm glad it did, though."
McCaffery arrived at Iowa with a reputation for having a fiery temper. It very well could have cost his team a huge victory on this occasion.
There's a chance the Hawkeyes could have died a slower death. Northern Iowa is a darn good team that plays good defense and shot 11 of 21 from three-point range. The Panthers' ceiling is higher than that of Iowa's this season.
That's why this one stings even more is you're the Hawkeyes. A win against a team to which they were 8.5-point underdogs really could have been a springboard to more success.
Iowa was playing without starting point guard Bryce Cartwright (hamstring) already. Giving the Panthers more help was ill advised.
The Hawkeyes hope they can take the positives out of Tuesday's debacle; reflect on how they hung with a good team on the road for 30 minutes before inexplicably enduring an emotional implosion. They can see on film that every time UNI made a run to put the game away, they had an answer, until they lost their minds.
McCaffery doesn't need to air his feelings in public. He clearly isn't happy with the officiating.
The coach should, if he already hasn't, apologize to his players for derailing their effort. And, he can't let it happen again, not to this degree, anyway.