IOWA CITY, Iowa - Comebacks can say a lot about a team.
Completing them says a lot more.
And not having to come back at all speaks the loudest.
Iowa’s 83-73 loss to No. 6 Purdue on Thursday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena showed the fight in the Hawkeyes.
Which, coach Fran McCaffery said, is a good sign.
What the Hawkeyes need, though, is not have to climb out of the holes they have dug.
“To beat a good team, you have to have the energy to compete a full 40 minutes,” Iowa forward Keegan Murray said. “We didn’t get that done.”
The Hawkeyes fell behind by as much as 15 points in the first half — it could have been a lot worse had the Boilermakers made their free throws — and by 18 early in the second half before rallying to get within 57-53 with 12:22.
But Purdue, much like in the first meeting of the season when the Hawkeyes fell down by 19 in the second half before rallying, figured out a way to finish.
And so Iowa (14-6, 4-5 Big Ten) has lost its second home game in conference play, not something you want to do when trying to escape that traffic jam that clogs the middle of the standings.
The difference between being caught in the jam and finding a way ahead of it like the Boilermakers (17-3, 6-3) have done is playing a complete game.
That has been elusive quite a few times this season for the Hawkeyes.
“We didn’t have the energy we needed in the first half,” Murray said. “We just have to come out in the first 20 minutes and compete.”
“I didn't think we competed in the first half the way you have to compete to beat a team of this caliber,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “That doesn't mean we didn't play hard. You have to play hard, you have to be connected, pay attention to the game plan, and we were late on stuff, and then we tried to do it all on our own offensively.”
It didn’t help that Murray, third in the nation in scoring, picked up his second foul and sat for the last 11:19 of the first half.
McCaffery never likes to play someone with two fouls in the first half, and he wasn’t going to gamble with Murray.
Murray said he wanted to play, but he respected his coach’s decision.
“He’s the head coach for a reason,” said Murray, who had 14 points and nine rebounds.
The fact that Murray picked up his third foul early in the second half made McCaffery’s decision seem like the right one.
“He gets his third, just keep playing,” McCaffery said. “He was good in the second half. We needed him to be better. You say, oh, he had an off game. Fourteen and nine is pretty good. The kid did a lot of good things. He's defending guys, in some cases a lot bigger than him. But he was good.”
Murray’s twin brother, Kris, was even better. He finished with 23 points to lead the Hawkeyes.
“I thought Kris was great the whole game,” McCaffery said. “He had to play a lot. … I just thought his aggressiveness at both ends was really good, and just to see him playing with that level of comfort and confidence is really important for him and for us.”
The Hawkeyes have back-to-back road games now — at Penn State on Monday and at Ohio State on Thursday.
Comebacks are nice. Completing them is better.