By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa men’s basketball team has something to prove when it opens National Invitation Tournament play Wednesday against eighth-seeded South Dakota in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes want to play like the team that closed out the regular season with four consecutive victories, wins over Indiana, No. 24 Maryland, No. 21 Wisconsin, and Penn State. Not like the team that had an early exit at the Big Ten Tournament in Washington D.C.
“It was disappointing to win four in a row and then lay an egg against Indiana,” said sophomore Cordell Pemsl. “We want to come out and play our best game and show everyone that we had a shot and deserved to be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
“Our main goal is to come out, play our best game, and make it as far as we can in this tournament.”
Wednesday won’t be a cake walk.
South Dakota, The Summit League regular-season champion, is 22-11 overall. The Coyotes won seven straight games down the stretch before being upset in the conference tournament by South Dakota State.
The Coyotes are in the same conference as Omaha, a team that came into Iowa City and handed the Hawkeyes a 98-89 loss on Dec. 3. USD and Omaha split the regular-season series.
“We lost to Omaha, they beat Omaha by 17,” said Pemsl. “That shows they’re a good team. By no means should we take them for granted. They’re going to come in and give us their best game. For us to win, we have to be prepared.”
The Hawkeyes have placed an emphasis on intensity. In the Big Ten Tournament loss to the Hoosiers, Pemsl says Iowa knew what was at stake, but the urgency and intensity didn’t translate into game action.
“We came out OK,” he said. “At this point in the year, we can’t play OK.”
The best way for the Hawkeyes to prove they were NCAA worthy is to defend Mediacom Court and play their way to Madison Square Garden at the end of March.
“This team knows we’re a good team and we could have very well been in the NCAA Tournament,” said sophomore Ahmad Wagner. “The NIT is a great tournament to be in, and it’s an honor to keep playing. We’re going to go out and play our hardest and hopefully win the whole thing.”
The start time for Wednesday’s game has been moved from a 6 p.m. (CT) to an 8 p.m. start because of the winter weather hitting the East Coast. The game will still be televised on ESPN2 with Kevin Brown and Bryndan Manzer on the call.
Roughly 4,000 tickets remaining for the contest and they’re available through the UI Athletics Ticket Office at (800) IA-HAWKS or online at hawkeyesports.com/tickets. Tickets will also be on sale from 9 a.m. to noon and after 1 p.m. on Wednesday inside the Dale & Marilyn Howard Family Pavilion in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.