IOWA CITY — Late in the first half Tuesday night, Iowa men’s basketball Coach Fran McCaffery pounded the edge of the Carver-Hawkeye Arena scorer’s table and shouted something angrily because the Wolverines had been credited with 50 points on the scoreboard.
They had rightly earned just 48, you see. Not that the scoreboard-operator could be faulted for thinking Michigan had hit half-a-hundred in the half. At one point, the Wolverines were 18 of 25 from the field for 72 percent. They probably should have made 72 percent given all the open looks they got.
If Michigan Coach John Beilein’s pregame instructions consisted solely of “Get wide open and make the shots they give you,” his players deserve a lot of credit for following direction.
But there was a lot more to it than that in Iowa’s 75-68 loss. Michigan’s players came with a mission to defend, which they did, leading to a lot of productive transition offense. If a Wolverine were alone behind the 3-point arc, which wasn’t really an “if” on this night, a teammate got him the ball.
“It wasn’t just our defense,” McCaffery said, “though it certainly appeared that way. The offense was sputtering.”
Yes, Hawkeye forward Tyler Cook had a showy 28-point performance that was worth the admission price despite the defeat and another night of polar weather to navigate through to join the announced crowd of 11,363.
“Sensational,” McCaffery called Cook.
“Unbelievable,” Michigan Coach John Beilein termed the sophomore.
Both were right. But the rest of the Hawkeyes were neutralized. Michigan’s focus was on another Hawkeye soph, point guard Jordan Bohannon.
“We thought the key was Tyler may get points, but Bohannon was the key,” Beilein said. “He shot the ball well (4-of-7 from 3-point distance, 12 points), but he is a really good Big Ten point guard. Zavier Simpson did a great job on him.”
Sophomore guard Simpson and freshman forward Isaiah Livers came in averaging 4.5 and 3.0 points, respectively. The two reserves had 15 and 13 Tuesday, respectively. Simpson also had seven assists. Most importantly to him was proving something while guarding Bohannon.
Last year, you see, Bohannon had 17 points, six assists and no turnovers here against the Wolverines and left quite an impression on Beilein.
“The coaches love Bohannon,” Simpson said, “to the point when it starts to be kind of annoying.
“Bohannon is a great player, no question. There’s nothing he can’t do. But I mean, it was starting to get crazy. Eli (Brooks) and Jaaron (Simmons) were like, ‘This is getting out of hand.’ Because it was. They were complimenting him so much. Bohannon, Bohannon, Bohannon.
“A lot of fire was built up because of how amazed the coaches are with a player. He is a great player, I’m going to be honest. But I just felt like the coaches were making him seem like the next Chris Paul. I just took pride in (guarding him).”
Meanwhile, Simpson and Livers and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Charles Matthews tormented Iowa all game long at the offensive end.
“We were kind of always in scramble mode,” said McCaffery, “and they took advantage of it. Pretty much everyone they put out there can dribble, pass, shoot.”
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The optimism Iowa built with a 5-game win streak against nonconference teams was drained in a hurry as the calendar flipped to 2018 and a return to Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes are 0-3 in the league with two home defeats, and the conference opposition has made 31 3-pointers and is shooting 44.9 percent from that distance against them.
Before playing three straight road games, Iowa hosts Ohio State Thursday night. With a second 6 p.m. weeknight tipoff during the university’s winter break in a three-day period, the Hawkeyes again can’t count on anyone but themselves to provide a winning atmosphere.
The Tyler Cook Show is very entertaining. But this team needs more, and fast.