IOWA CITY — First off, you need to know that Fran McCaffery isn’t big on holding team meetings.
“You shouldn’t be having team meetings …’’ he growled Monday night after his team’s game against Stetson University at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “You shouldn’t need team meetings. You should just take care of business when the game is played.’’
But the Iowa coach had to admit he noticed a difference Monday night after his players took it upon themselves to hold a little exchange of views following a disheartening loss to Omaha two days earlier.
McCaffery saw improvement in the defense, rebounding and ball security. He even liked the way the players on the bench exhorted on their teammates.
And, of course, he liked the fact that the Hawkeyes punctuated a four-game losing streak with a never-any-doubt 95-68 victory over Stetson at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I think that's important, but I think it's important how you get a win,’’ McCaffery said. “What do you do? Are you correcting some of the deficiencies that had been problematic for us?’’
He pointed to the fact that the Hawkeyes (4-5) had a season low in turnovers with five and that they outrebounded the visiting Hatters (4-6). And the defense, which had allowed 90 or more points in three straight games, was significantly better.
“I think defensively in the first half, I'm not sure we can play much better …’’ he said. “Second half we were a little lax again with our ball screen defense and our recovery and rotations out of that. We got a little complacent with a 20-point lead … But I thought our activity level and productivity from a lot of different people was really impressive.’’
Freshmen Cordell Pemsl and Isaiah Moss each reached career highs with 21 points and senior Peter Jok overcame another erratic shooting night — he was 4 for 13 from the field — with solid performances in other areas. He finished with 15 points, 8 rebounds and career-best 7 assists.
Pemsl, who has scored 57 points and made 23 of 27 shots from the field since becoming a starter three games ago, helped get the Hawkeyes off to a fast start and a 14-2 lead. A run of 14 consecutive points in the middle of the second half turned the game into a rout.
Perhaps the most significant change was the insertion of Ahmad Wagner into the starting lineup although that move almost had a very unhappy ending when Wagner went down with a knee injury less than two minutes into the second half. The 6-foot-7 sophomore soared through the air to spear an offensive rebound but toppled to the ground and screamed in pain while grabbing at his right knee.
“I was really scared because he’s not a drama guy,’’ McCaffery said. “I think it really scared him because he jumped so high and landed so awkwardly.’’
Doctors performed tests on the knee and determined that Wagner simply hyperextended it. He didn’t return to the game, but you got the feeling he could have had he been needed.
Wagner, who had eight points and six rebounds in just 13 minutes of playing time, admitted he “thought the worst when I hit the ground.
“I was pretty scared. I’m not going to lie,’’ he said. “It hurt pretty bad, but I’m going to be all right. The doctor said I’ll be able to play on Thursday.’’
Ah yes, Thursday.
That’s when arch-rival Iowa State comes to Carver-Hawkeye for a game that will carry much more intensity and emotion than anything the Hawkeyes have seen so far during their stumbling start.
While Monday’s effort offered some fresh encouragement, it came against an Atlantic Sun Conference team whose four victories this season are over Webber International, Florida International, Florida A&M and Florida College.
Thursday will bring a crazier atmosphere and a much stiffer test. Iowa State rolled to a 44-point victory Monday against that same Omaha club that handled the Hawkeyes on Saturday.
But the Hawkeye feel they’re much better prepared for it after what Wagner described as “a big confidence booster.’’
“It was very much needed,’’ Pemsl said. “We haven’t won for awhile so it was fun to get that under our belt and enjoy this for tonight but we come back tomorrow and start working for Thursday night.’’
“We’ll be ready,’’ Moss added. “Tonight was a big step forward.’’