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SYRACUSE 66, IOWA 63: ORANGE YOU GLAD IT WAS CLOSE

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A late rally by the Hawkeyes falls short, and Iowa takes last place in the 2K Classic in Madison Square Garden.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Well, at least it wasn't as bad as it looked for most of the second half.

Iowa staged a late rally but came up short in the dying minutes, losing 66-63 to No. 23 Syracuse. Jarrod Uthoff led Iowa with 20 points (matched by the Orange's Chris McCullough) and was instrumental in the late surge, but Iowa went just cold enough in the last two minutes while Syracuse hit its free throws, and that was that.

Note: As some tweeters pointed out, this should be amended to the last 15 seconds thanks to the Tennessee play-in game, which... doesn't exactly make things much better.

For most of the second half, the game looked like as much of a howler as last night's whipping at Texas' hands. Syracuse had a 19-6 run to open up a 50-35 lead with 12 minutes to play, but at roughly nine minutes of game time it felt more like a glaciation.

This was still an eight-point game with 5:07 on the clock, though the last of Uthoff's points pushed it back to a one-possession affair shortly thereafter. So it's awfully nice (and speaks somewhat highly of Iowa's resolve) that this game got back in doubt down the stretch, but Syracuse was in control for most of the game and it showed.

Iowa looked sloppy. Aaron White wasn't bad, but his interior passing seemed to catch Iowa off-guard more often than it helped, and he had his own trouble handling entry passes at times. It seemed clear that Iowa knew it needed quick ball movement on the interior to bust the Syracuse zone, and hey—the effort is appreciated. The execution didn't match the coaching on this front, though, and the inability to keep possession on so many occasions (Iowa finished with 18 turnovers, most coming in the first half) really put the Hawkeyes in a tough spot.

For Syracuse, Rakeem Christmas had quite the interior... presence. Get it. His ability to generate offense from up close frustrated Iowa's big men all day long and kept Syracuse on pace when the Orange had its own issues with jump shooting and ball control. This is another big, strong team that gave Iowa fits on the inside, and that's something the Iowa coaching staff needs to examine going forward.

This is yet another close loss for Iowa under Fran McCaffery, in a pattern that's thoroughly depressing and long past coincidental. The principal actors change, but the constant thread in the last few years seems to be a dearth in leadership—who's the bell cow, as Hayden Fry would put it? Who's directing traffic, calming his teammates down when things start going sideways, taking the clutch shot or making sure the ball gets to the guy who should? Matt Gatens, Roy Devyn Marble, White and now Uthoff are all more than able ballplayers, but they're all so quiet on the court, and that can't be a net positive, can it?

Meanwhile, coaches often talk about having a "coach on the floor" with their point guard, but... can you point to any of Iowa's three candidates here and say that describes any of them at all? Yes, Trey Dickerson is a sophomore who just showed up not long ago, but Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons are in their third years in the program, and neither look like leaders—nor do either look appreciably better than their freshman seasons. Clemmons started hot, but he faded almost as badly as Gesell in New York. Almost.

So while this was just one game (or two) and not a reason to completely give up on the season, it did look a little too familiar to the bad times for fans to just be able to walk this one off. There are deep issues on display here, and if Iowa can't figure out who's in charge on the court, the team's in for a rough go of it against the best conference in basketball five years running.