DES MOINES — Finally, some fun.
It was almost as though a pressure release valve was opened for the Iowa men’s basketball team at Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday, particularly in the second half. En route to a 90-64 win against Drake, the Hawkeyes literally flexed their muscles.
Tyler Cook had a laughing fit when Jordan Bohannon’s arm flex after an and-1 in the second half was brought up. Bohannon did too, by the way.
“It’s something I’ve been working on lately, because I haven’t really been having fun lately,” Bohannon said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to flex your muscles to get back to having fun with it.”
Cordell Pemsl returned from missing the Southern game with a deep laceration to his right shin and promptly dunked for the first time in his college career. That followed a tussle for the ball with Drake’s Casey Schlatter in which “I didn’t like how long he was holding onto me, and I let him know I didn’t like it.” Pemsl's teammates enjoyed that, too.
“Once I jumped I realized I may have been high enough, and I knew if I was going to do it and missed, I wasn’t going to play, so I made sure I was high enough this time,” Pemsl said. “I’ve told you, it’s not my thing, but every once in a while I might have to, just to show everyone I can. I leave that stuff to Tyler and Jack (Nunge) and Ahmad (Wagner) and them.”
Nicholas Baer probably put it best, though. He for sure put it in the simplest terms.
“The most fun thing is to win,” Baer said.
The Hawkeyes needed Saturday for a number of reasons, but for a group as jovial as this one off the floor, being that way on it just seeps into the rest of their game.
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Even Coach Fran McCaffery had a moment with referee Bo Boroski along the sideline, a wide smile and hearty laugh following a brief exchange in the first half.
“It’s a very important part,” McCaffery said. “Not only during the game, but after the game, they’re having fun in the locker room. You want that for your guys, to put a game plan together, execute the game plan and feel good about yourself and feel good about your teammates.”
This was the Hawkeyes team most expected to start the season, and McCaffery and his players all conceded Saturday was Iowa’s most complete game.
Defense was the strongest unit throughout the game, playing “about 30 minutes of the game” in zone in a bit of a surprise given the way the Bulldogs shoot the basketball normally. McCaffery said, “I didn’t think we’d be able to sustain,” that much zone. The full court press and active hands in passing lanes forced 19 Drake turnovers which led to 25 points for Iowa.
On offense, it was 23 team assists on 37 field goals and 55.2 percent shooting from the field. It was Cook going for 23 points on 10 of 13 shooting, despite six of the team’s 14 turnovers. It was Jordan Bohannon finishing with 15 points on 6 of 8 shooting and adding seven assists to just one turnover.
But it was Baer — the baron of Wells Fargo Arena, apparently — most of all. Baer was “the difference,” McCaffery said, and it’s hard to argue. The Bettendorf grad had 11 points, a career-high 14 rebounds, five assists and five steals. He became the first Hawkeye to eclipse 13 rebounds, four assists and four steals in game since Reggie Evans did so 17 years ago to the day — Dec. 16, 2000. He had five of Iowa’s 14 offensive rebounds.
“I think it’s huge for all of us to see that kind of energy and effort,” Cook said of Baer. “Whether Baer’s starting or coming off the bench, he’s locked in and giving everything he has. It’s contagious, so it makes us all want to put forth that same effort, intensity and focus.
“No matter which Baer we get, night in and night out he’s a motivation for us.”
From the fun to the defense, Saturday was a blueprint for the Hawkeyes.
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Drake is not the most talented team Iowa has played or will play, but what the Bulldogs are best at is what the Hawkeyes were worst at defending for about a month. Patience and purpose on both ends led to points, led to the game slowing down and led to the aforementioned moments of fun, both big and small.
It wasn’t perfect — those turnovers crept up again — but it was something from which to draw.
And if nothing else, it was fun.
“We know (Drake) had a lot of guards who can shoot, they were driving it and they were quick, and this is a game we can look back on and see where we were effective in zone, where we were effective in man-to-man,” Baer said. “When you’re up 20, you’re going to see more smiles. The best way for us to have fun is to continue to compete at this level we’re playing at right now and continue to win.
“I think we need a little more fun. When we’re winning, we have fun.”
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