Miller: The Passion Has Returned

Iowa lost a basketball game at Purdue on Wednesday night by the score of 51-50. It was gut-wrenching, it was heartbreaking, it was excruciating. And you know what? It felt really good to feel that again. HN Publisher Jon Miller explains…

As I sat watching the second half of Iowa's loss at Purdue on Wednesday, I noticed something. I noticed a sick feeling in my stomach. It was a familiar feeling, but one that I hadn't felt in nearly two years, but one that I had felt for the majority of my life as an Iowa Basketball fan.

It was the feeling you get when the adrenaline is rolling through you as you are locked in to a college basketball game, living and dying with each possession. Joy flooding the mind with each made basket, anxiety a constant with a nip and tuck score.

There is a word for it; passion. Pure and simple passion.

I can't say that I have felt that since Iowa's 2005-2006 season when they won 25 games and claimed the Big Ten Tournament Championship, a year they might have been the best team in the Big Ten. They finished one game out of first place that year in the regular season standings, and the team that won the league, Ohio State, was a team that Iowa beat twice that year.

I didn't feel any pain or any joy last year, I simply felt nothing. That's the feeling you have when you had a coach that the majority of the fan base had lost faith in. That's the feeling of apathy; nothingness.

So when those old emotions returned on Wednesday, I recognized them at once, and was happy to have them back.

The fact that Iowa lost the game in excruciating fashion was almost overcome by my happiness that I was 100 percent invested in this game, as a fan.

After the game, I went to the message boards.

There were fans openly criticizing Todd Lickliter's decision on the final play of the game. For those of you that didn't see it, let me attempt to recreate it for you.

Iowa was down three points with the clocking winding down. Jake Kelly decided to drive to the basket and he attempted a layup. The officials called a foul with 5.0 seconds left, and they called goaltending on Purdue. Kelly made his free throw, and the game was tied 50-50.

Purdue called timeout, then Iowa called timeout after seeing Purdue's offensive set.

Iowa chose to not place a defender on the inbounds pass, and Boilermaker guard Keaton Grant received the ball at three-quarters court. Tony Freeman picked him up at that point, and Purdue sent all of their players as far away from the basket as they could, clearing the lane for Grant.

No Iowa player helped, and Grant was able to get past Freeman near the basket, where Freeman fouled him with 1.4 seconds to go. Grant made the first free throw, intentionally missed the second and Iowa was unable to get off a shot. Purdue won, 51-50.

Iowa fans were questioning why Iowa didn't slap on a full court press in that situation. I disagree with that, because Iowa is not a pressing team.

Iowa fans were questioning why there wasn't help for Freeman, to slow Grant down. Iowa fans were questioning a lot of things about that final play.

Which is something I find to be refreshing and exciting.

Some folks will read this column and think that I am nuts, getting excited over a one-point loss. Some will say that moral victories are not to be celebrated.

That is fine, and I can respect that opinion.

But this basketball program has been low on passion for too long, and it was refreshing to see it return, to feel it return.

And oh by the way, Iowa committed 22 turnovers in this game to Purdue's 12. They were minus 10 in that department, and they nearly won the game.

That they even had a shot to win this game is a bit mind-boggling, considering that statistic. I think that is a testament to Todd Lickliter and the Iowa coaching staff. It's a testament to the Iowa players who were able to fight through a very off night in a crucial area, and not let it affect them on the defensive end.

Not surprisingly, Iowa was out shot by 10 field goal attempts, 36 to 46. You don't win too many games attempting just 36 field goals. And if you only attempt that many, you had better make a lot of them. Iowa shot better than 52 percent from the floor. So they didn't let their turnovers affect their concentration on offense when they were able to get up a shot.

Iowa won the battle of the boards 27-21. They went five of nine from the free throw line, and that of course came back to bite them, in addition to too many turnovers.

We all knew that this year was going to be a struggle, before it ever began. Before Tony Freeman missed 10 games with a foot injury, before Jarryd Cole blew out his knee in the final non-conference game of the year.

We all knew that it was going to take Coach Lickliter more than just one year to get his players to execute the way his Butler teams execute, to be able to take care of the basketball as well as those teams did.

Losses stink, no matter where you are in the development of a program, and Coach Lickliter and the Iowa players will not settle for moral victories.

But I can't lie to you; I am extremely encouraged in how this team fights through adversity and does not quit. Some of that adversity is brought on my too many turnovers, but most of it was going to be there before the team began practicing this year, due to how this team came to be shorthanded. Hint: that had nothing to do with Lickliter or the players.

Can you imagine what Lickliter led teams are going to look like if they can keep their turnovers to between 10 and 13 a game?

I am starting to imagine that, and it brings an even bigger smile to my face, even if I have to smile through my teeth after a tough loss like the one Iowa suffered on Wednesday.

I see the light at the end of the tunnel, though the tunnel is probably going to be longer than a lot of people would like it to be.

Still, I see the light.

Most importantly, I feel the passion returning.

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