Fran McCaffery isn’t ready to say his Iowa basketball team has “turned the corner.’’
Far from it. The Hawkeyes have played pretty well in winning their last two home games, against Wisconsin and Minnesota, but now he’d kind of like to see them do the same thing on the road.
They will get a chance to do that today when they visit Penn State in a 5 p.m. game against a team they lost to by four points at home two months ago.
Iowa (12-12 overall, 3-8 Big Ten) is 1-6 in road games this season with the only victory coming at Illinois in a game in which it trailed by 20 points before rallying to win in overtime. The six road losses have been by an average margin of 15 points. Most of them weren’t close.
But McCaffery couldn’t help but be encouraged by a 94-80 victory over Minnesota on Tuesday. He said his team’s offensive execution may have been the best it has been all season as it scored 57 second-half points, the most by a Hawkeyes team in league play in 28 years.
“I don’t ever look at it like we’ve turned the corner …’’ McCaffery said. “You want to be better, you want to be better consistently and that’s been an issue all year long. We have not been consistent pretty much at anything. We’ve been really, really good at everything at times. That’s why we’re sitting at .500.
“I hope (the Minnesota win) is a big step. You’ve got to go on the road and play a really good team and play consistently well at both ends for 40 minutes. If you want to be a good team, that’s what the real good teams do. We’ve done it in the past. We just haven’t done it this year. I hope we’ve turned the corner.’’
Penn State (15-9, 5-6 Big Ten) has had its share of ups and downs, too. The Nittany Lions went on the road and handed Ohio State its only Big Ten loss, but they’re also the only team to have lost to Minnesota in the past few weeks.
They aren’t as deep as most teams in the league — they did not get a single bench point in their earlier victory over Iowa — but all five starters average in double figures. They have two of the most disruptive defenders in the Big Ten in Mike Watkins and Josh Reaves and arguably the best point guard in 6-foot-5 Tony Carr.
“He’s got great pace to his game …’’ McCaffery said of Carr. “He’s also got that ability late game to make plays. He’s made game-winners, he’s tied games, he’s got that innate ability to really be successful at crunch time and that really helps any team when you know you’ve got a guy like that you can count on, especially when it’s the guy that’s got the ball most of the time. He settles everybody down and makes everybody else better.’’
Carr will be part of an intriguing matchup between sophomore point guards. Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon has been on a hot streak lately and is one of the few Iowa players who has played well on the road.
If anything, Bohannon has been better in games played away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He has made five or more 3-point field goals in his past four road games and is averaging 23.3 points in those games. He is shooting 47.9 percent from 3-point range in Big Ten road games compared to 37.1 percent at home.
“I just think he plays really well all the time,’’ McCaffery said. “For some guys, the situation doesn’t change anything. ‘I’m going to play the way I play’ … It doesn’t matter to some guys.’’
The Hawkeyes will be shorthanded again as reserves Ryan Kriener and Brady Ellingson still are sidelined by concussions. It will be the fifth straight game Kriener has missed, the fourth for Ellingson.
“I don’t think either of them is going to play, but they’re both getting closer,’’ McCaffery said.