Fran McCaffery couldn’t be directly a part of Iowa’s easy win over Northwestern on Thursday night.
But I am sure the fourth-year head coach was smiling somewhere in Carver-Hawkeye Arena after his Hawkeyes shot 57 percent from the floor, dominated the glass and cruised to the 93-67 victory in front of more than 14,000 fans.
It was supposed to be Fran McCaffery Bobblehead Night. Instead, the Hawkeyes were without their coach for the first time in his tenure after McCaffery was suspended by the Big Ten following a tirade that led to his ejection against Wisconsin on Sunday.
No Fran, no problem though for the 20th ranked Hawkeyes, which improved to 2-1 in Big Ten play after the win. Filling in for McCaffery was Kirk Speraw, who served as head coach at Central Florida before joining McCaffery’s staff four years ago.
“I am very proud of our guys today,” said Speraw. “They really approached the week with great maturity and focus and thought they executed the game plan very well tonight.”
Speraw refused to take any credit in the win. He complimented the players for staying focused in a tough week and gave credit to assistant coach Andrew Francis’ scouting report of the Wildcats.
“I just try to fill in how I need to fill in,” Speraw said. “And that was a big part of me coming up here with Fran and appreciate the opportunity, and whatever I can do to help out. But it certainly wasn't me out there tonight; it was the players and the entire coaching staff.”
Aaron White led the Hawkeyes with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists and was 10-for-10 from the line one game after telling the media he was “tired of losing to team’s we are better than” following the Hawkeyes’ four-point loss to the fourth-ranked Badgers.
Melsahn Basabe also had a double-double, finishing with 16 points and 10 boards. The senior also eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for his career in the win. He’s is the 42nd player in Iowa history to reach 1,000 points, currently sitting at 1,009 points.
"I wasn't focusing on this because I assumed I was going to get to 1,000," said Basabe. "I started off the season at 900, so I wasn't thinking about it every day. Everybody around me was so excited about it; my mom, my auntie, my girl, everyone was saying 1,000 points ... I am glad we got that out of the way."
Roy Devyn Marble started slow offensively but still finished with 15 points, six assists and four steals, while Adam Woodbury ended up with 10 points and Mike Gesell chipped in nine points and six assists. Marble and Gesell’s combined 12 assists also came with just one turnover.
"We didn't have any long dry spells offensively, but I think a lot of that was good defense and getting things in transition," said Speraw. "We got the ball inside, got to the free throw line and shot it well from the perimeter. It's always good to have all those options coming through for you."
Iowa never played from behind in the victory after jumping out to a 10-0 lead. It was 15-11 with 10:13 to go in the first half, but White’s free throws with 2:31 to play until halftime made it a 14-point game and then he finished the first 20 minutes with a dunk to give Iowa a 16-point lead.
The Hawkeyes led 41-26 at the break and led by as many as 31 points against a Northwestern team that is struggling to grasp new head coach Chris Collins’ offensive system in his first year with the program.
Iowa was 8-of-14 from 3-point range and sunk 27-of-36 free throws. The Hawkeyes out-rebounded the Wildcats 41-28 and had a 17-2 advantage in fastbreak points.
JerShon Cobb led the Wildcats (7-9, 0-3) with 18 points and seven rebounds. Drew Crawford had 12 points and Iowa native and former West Des Moines Valley standout Kyle Abrahamson added nine points.
Zach McCabe and Jarrod Uthoff each had seven points and three rebounds to lead Iowa’s bench.
Next up for Iowa is another tough road test against No. 3 Ohio State, which is coming off a road loss to No. 5 Michigan State.
The Buckeyes will be looking to get back on the winning track, but the Hawkeyes are seeking that big signature road win that would help propel Iowa up the ladder toward its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2006.
Tip-off is set for 12:30 p.m. Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.
"It would be big to get that monkey off our backs," said White of getting a "big-time" road win. "Not that we're thinking about it, but everyone keeps asking about it, and it's kind of getting old. We need to go out and prove we're a top team and beat somebody on the road."