IOWA CITY, Iowa – The ability to win on the road is often what separates a good team from a great team.
The second-ranked Iowa men’s basketball team is 4-1 on the road this season, its only loss coming against Iowa State 83-82 on Dec. 10 in Ames. The Cyclones, who were ranked second at the time, overcame a 20-point deficit to defeat Iowa before a sellout crowd at Hilton Coliseum.
Iowa has won nine games in a row since losing to Iowa State, including all three of its Big Ten road games. Two of Iowa’s Big Ten road wins came against conference contenders Purdue and Michigan State.
So don’t expect the Iowa players to be intimidated or in awe when they take the court against No. 8 Maryland on Thursday in College Park, Md.
With four seniors and a junior in the starting lineup, the Iowa players are battled tested and playing with tremendous poise and confidence.
“To stay poised on the road, you can only do that if you’ve been in that environment before,” said Iowa senior center Adam Woodbury, who will be making his 124th career start on Thursday. “A lot of big-time recruits that come in as freshmen have a tough time playing on the road.
“It’s a different environment, way different than high school or anything they’ve seen before. So being in those battles before and being battle-tested is key for us.”
Thursday’s game will be the fifth meeting between Iowa and Maryland, but the first in College Park. The environment at the XFINITY Center will be new, but the circumstances with a raucous crowd won’t be.
Winning on the road requires the ability to stay focused in a hostile environment and to stay unified as a team.
It also feels different to win on the road, as Iowa coach Fran McCaffery explained on Tuesday.
“Oh, absolutely,” McCaffery said. “You feel like you’ve overcome a lot, accomplished a lot, because you really have to be together on the floor and you have to hold on to the game plan because there is so much noise and you’ve got to really – it’s hard to communicate sometimes. So you have to really communicate with each other and you have to pull each other over and you have to help and support one another on the floor. So I think the players feel a little bit differently when they get a W in a situation like that.”
From a talent standpoint, Maryland compares favorably with almost any team in college basketball.
You name it and the eighth-ranked Terrapins have it, from size to depth to athleticism.
Sophomore point guard Melo Trimble might be the best player in the country at his position, while 6-11 freshman center Diamond Stone has a nice game to go along with his unique name.
Iowa senior guard Anthony Clemmons will have the challenge of trying to contain Trimble, who is averaging 14.5 points, 5.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game.
“He can shoot the ball and he’s very strong,” Clemmons said of Trimble. “He’s stronger that what he really looks. He attacks the rim. He’s poised player. He makes big plays at the end of the game, and they call plays for him.
“I mean he’s a tough guard because you have to be engaged with him at all times.”
Maryland’s talented supporting cast makes Trimble even more dangerous.
“He’s brutal in ball screens; a lot of times he doesn’t even need a screen because he’s so quick, and he gives it up easy and he gives it up early,” McCaffery said. “And those guys are ready. They’ve got their hands ready and they catch passes in traffic and finish plays in traffic.
“But he’s got a lot of weapons around him, which, any time you have a guy like him and you put four other great players around him, it makes him that much more difficult. Because if you’re going to help, you’re going to give something up.”
With records of 17-3 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten, Maryland is at risk of falling three games behind Iowa in the loss column in the Big Ten standings.
The Hawkeyes are 16-3 overall and 7-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1970 and for just the second time in school history. Iowa has won 13 consecutive Big Ten games dating back to last season.
“We just have to stay true to ourselves and really just play up to our capabilities,” said senior forward Jarrod Uthoff, who has scored at least 20 points in five of the last six games. “Maryland is a very good team. And we just have to do what we do.”