By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - The Iowa men’s basketball team showed on Tuesday that it’s still a work in progress, sometimes a slow work in progress, but it also showed up in the win column again.
Iowa extended its winning streak to four games by defeating a pesky and aggressive North Dakota squad 84-73 before an announced attendance of 11,099 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Fighting Hawks were actually too aggressive for Iowa coach Fran McCaffery’s liking. He was upset with how the game ended and refused to shake hands with the North Dakota players and coaches afterwards. McCaffery also instructed his players to head directly to the locker room instead of shaking hands in what turned into a bizarre and unfortunate ending.
“I wasn’t pleased with how the game ended and the things that happened,” McCaffery said without being specific.
McCaffery’s made it clear that he wasn’t upset with North Dakota head coach Brian Jones or assistant coach Jeff Horner, both of whom have connections to the Iowa program. Jones was an assistant coach at Iowa for eight seasons under Steve Alford, while Horner was an all-Big Ten point guard for the Hawkeyes.
“I will say this: I have a lot of respect for Brian and certainly Jeff Horner,” McCaffery said. “I don’t think they teach that kind of stuff. But I was not having it. That’s not the way to play.”
The situation turned chippy in the closing seconds as the North Dakota players refused to let up despite trailing by double figures.
Freshman point guard Jordan Bohannon was called for a dead-ball technical foul in the closing seconds after getting tangled with a North Dakota player.
“It was just that kind of chippy game,” Bohannon said. “Those games happen. So we just have to get over it and get to the next game.”
North Dakota guard Corey Baldwin didn’t help the situation at the end by trying to steal the ball away from Iowa forward Nicholas Baer with just three seconds remaining.
“I think he was upset with one of our players trying to steal the ball with three seconds,” Jones said. “We’re going to handle that situation. The kid is a competitive kid. We’ll handle that.
“I think (Fran) was frustrated by that. That’s all. I can’t answer for what was going on with him.”
Jones and Horner both stood at midcourt after the game, each with a befuddled look on their face as if to say what just happened.
That’s unfortunate because there should’ve been a better ending to Horner’s homecoming. It was awkward watching one of Iowa’s most celebrated point guards be ignored like that.
Jones deserves credit for saying all the right things in his press conference because he was visibly upset after the game. He and Iowa assistant coach Kirk Speraw had a lengthy conversation at midcourt before heading to their respective locker rooms.
“I’ve known him a long time,” Jones said of Speraw. “He was frustrated as well. I worked here for eight years. That’s why I was frustrated. Coach Horner played here. We want to come here and play well. We want our family and friends to be proud of what we’re doing and be respected. I get the heat of it. It’s just the heat of the moment. Coach (McCaffery) is a high character guy. I’m not blaming that.
“There were some things down the stretch that both teams could have cleaned up. We have to learn from those situations.”
McCaffery was concerned about what might happen if both teams lined up to shake hands.
"I always am," he said. "Whenever there is a contentious situation, I'm always worried about that.
This wasn't the first time that McCaffery has refused to shake hands with a team after a game. But it hadn't happened before at Iowa. So it was strange and uncomfortable watching the situation unfold.
As for the game, it was the kind of matchup that Iowa might have lost a month ago when playing defense seemed to be optional. The Hawkeyes did enough to win, but they also struggled during stretches.
“I do think that the way they challenged us will help us because they’re big and strong and it was a physical game like we’re going to see in the Big Ten,” McCaffery said. “So it’s good that you play games like that this time of year.”
Iowa was leading 64-57 when senior guard Peter Jok scored four consecutive points on two free throws and a jumper in the lane.
Bohannon then scored on a drive to the basket, expanding Iowa’s lead to 70-57 with 6 minutes, 36 seconds left to play.
North Dakota never posed a serious threat from that point on as Iowa improved to 7-5 with one nonconference game remaining on Thursday against Delaware State.
“They’re an aggressive team,” Jok said of North Dakota, which fell to 5-5 overall. “They came out and played hard. They were super aggressive with me.
“It didn’t bother me. I had the regular shots that I always make. But they just weren’t going in tonight.”
Jok and Bohannon both scored 18 points to lead Iowa. Jok only made 4-of-15 field-goal attempts, but he compensated by making all 10 of his free throws.
McCaffery’s refusal to shake hands went viral on social media as fans picked sides on whether it was the right or wrong decision.
My guess is that McCaffery might regret his decision at some point, or maybe he won't because McCaffery makes no apologies for being emotional and volatile at times. He is a proud man who believes in doing things a certain way.
And in this case, McCaffery did what he felt was best in the heat of the moment.
And his team won.
So overall, the game was a success. It just had an unfortunate ending.