Howe: Hawks Lose Identity in ISU Blowout

Iowa came into Friday's showdown with No. 14 Iowa State favored after showing through 10 games that it locked down on defense despite a erratic offense. The Hawkeyes forgot what helped them win their last six games and their rivals took advantage of it. As HI Publisher Rob Howe writes, it was a rude awakening.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa State's Georges Niang blew a kiss to the Iowa crowd Friday late in his team's blowout victory. It sealed an embarrassing night for the Hawkeyes.

The boos that rang down on the ISU star only made his smile wider. A year ago, he told reporters everyone knows it's a "Cyclone State" after his squad knocked off the Iowa in Ames.

At the moment, as annoying as Niang's words and gestures are for the Hawkeye fans, their team has supplied him the ammunition. Iowa, favored by six points Friday, fell 90-75 in a game that was even more lopsided that the final score would indicate and decided early in the second half.

The Cyclones were missing their second-leading scorer, Bryce Dejean-Jones, who was suspended. Abdel Nader stepped in and scored 19 points, aided by 4 of 6 shooting from behind the arc. The Iowa State program showed again it's at higher level than its main rival.

Coach Fran McCaffery has lifted the Hawkeyes from the ashes he found them in five years ago. They just have hit a wall trying to advance past the respectable point.

Friday's outcome resulted from Iowa State being more talented. Iowa's effort was fine even if its execution was poor.

The Cyclones can shoot. They connected on 34 of 64 shots (53.1 percent) from the floor. Not a surprise, considering they were at 50 percent coming into the contest.

Iowa struggles to make shots. Shooting 42 percent this year, it made just 28 of 71 (39.4 percent) and many of those came after the visitors built a 25-point lead six minutes into the second half. Again, it wasn't a surprise as it was the norm.

The Hawkeyes probably should have trailed by more than five points at halftime. They were 13 of 39 from the field prior to the break. But, at least they were playing good defense.

Iowa reverted to a habit that contributed to losing seven of its last eight games a year ago. It allowed poor offense to affect how they guarded the opposition. The Cyclones shot 63.3 percent from the floor in the second half.

"Once the wheels started coming off, defensively we broke down, offensively we broke down," McCaffery said.

The Hawkeyes were holding people to 33.7 percent from the field and 54.9 points. ISU represented the best shooting team they faced but that didn't completely explain the disparity.

Iowa is the gang that can't shoot straight. That's not going to change. There will be better nights than Friday but not a lot of them.

McCaffery has said his guys shoot well in practice. He's sung those praises the last two years. We've seen too much evidence to the contrary.

The Hawkeyes need to understand their identity. They're grinders that must dig in on defense and crash the glass on every possession. Missing a shot, or a lot of them, cannot affect that.

Iowa understood that in upsetting then-No. 12 North Carolina, 60-55, in Chapel Hill Dec. 3. Granted, the Tar Heels couldn't shoot as well as ISU, but the Hawkeyes were at 32.7 percent in that game.

ISU pushed as fast-paced tempo. For some reason, Iowa got caught up in it.

When the Hawkeyes have found success this season, they work the ball around looking for the best shot and maximize each possession. It's an approach that can cover up a team not flush with gifted shooters.

Friday, they jacked up quick shots. They were selfish on offense. In turn, they helped each other little on defense.

Matt Gatens and Roy Devyn Marble are gone. They're not coming back. Iowa lacks a go-to guy on offense.

The Hawkeyes must be a whole better than the sum of their parts, on both ends of the floor. Think Hoosiers without Jimmy Chitwood.

If Iowa is searching for a shining example of the concept, it will find it in preparing for its next opponent. No. 23 Northern Iowa thrives on selfless, hard-nosed determination with guys overlooked by high major programs.

The Panthers will be motivated to knock off one of the state's big boys next Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. An Iowa loss there applies more pressure to it in the ultra competitive Big Ten.

The Hawkeyes have a signature win against UNC but have lost their other three resume-building games. Texas and Syracuse knocked them off in New York City last month. Their other seven wins will be ignored by the NCAA Selection committee.

To Iowa's credit, it figured things out after coming up empty in Manhattan by responding at North Carolina. Friday showed the Hawkeyes didn't learn their lesson and lacked discipline. That shouldn't be the case 11 games into the season.

"I've been here before," McCaffery said. "You have a great win. You have a tough loss.

"It's no different. You go back to work. You break the film down. You hold them accountable. You don't kill them. You're reasonable about it. You've got to encourage them. You've got to get them believing again because they clearly have some doubt tonight."

It's only one loss, true, but it's demoralizing. At the same time, it illustrates again how the Hawkeyes need to play. They can't keep trying to be something they're not.

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