IOWA CITY — The Iowa men’s basketball team and its leading scorer, forward Tyler Cook, saw something Tuesday night that almost certainly won’t be seen the rest of this season.
Southern Utah guarded the post one-on-one for almost the entirety of the game.
Despite a definite size advantage in the Hawkeyes’ favor, Cook, Luka Garza, Cordell Pemsl, Jack Nunge and Ryan Kriener all saw single coverage when the ball was fed inside. Iowa’s 92-64 victory — its third straight — didn’t come just because of that, but the 52 points in the paint that were its result didn’t exactly hurt the cause. Coach Fran McCaffery said he and his staff saw that on film before the game, but that “we thought they might. They just didn’t do it a lot.”
Cook gave a wide, knowing grin when it was brought up. He said he knows he and the rest of the Iowa big men have to relish what they saw Tuesday.
“It was surprising, yes, and it’s great for me and the rest of the low post guys,” Cook said through a laugh. “That’s kind of what you dream of, one-on-one. It was great to see that for the first time in like nine games. We won’t see that much moving forward, so we’re going to have to keep working on making those adjustments and trying to still be effective regardless of what defense they play.”
Not having at least two guys crashing every time he touched the ball helped in more than just putting the ball in the hoop himself, too.
Cook had six turnovers against Drake, but backed that up Tuesday with no turnovers in 22 minutes while scoring 16 points and grabbing seven rebounds. The turnovers weren’t exclusive to Cook, to be certain, but the zero in that column for him was another cause for a wide smile after the game.
The St. Louis native said that was the stat he checked right before meeting with media after the game and “I think my patience was a lot better today; I was able to get the ball in better position and make the right plays.”
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McCaffery said Cook was “spectacular” against the Thunderbirds, and said “he played with great pace.” On more than one occasion Tuesday night, Cook showed patience with the ball McCaffery said he might not have a year ago.
“He had a particularly difficult stretch in that one game I thought,” McCaffery said. “But you look at his assist-to-turnover numbers compared to what they were last year, he’s way more assists, fewer turnovers; seeing it. I thought a couple times today, last year he would’ve put his head down and ran over the guy. He was a little more shifty and kind of went around the guy and finished. I think he knew he could score if he took his time. That’s the maturity you’re seeing in his game.”
Cook still has more turnovers than assists this season — he’s at 22 assists to 27 turnovers so far this year — but he finished all of last season with 26 assists and 65 turnovers, to McCaffery’s point.
The team as a whole has made better decisions and taken care of the ball in the last three games — 11 turnovers per game in the last three compared to 18 in each game the three before that — and McCaffery acknowledged it was something the team as a whole focused on intently.
No Iowa player had more than two turnovers Tuesday, and the Hawkeyes’ frontcourt had a good day passing to boot. Not having the double team helped exit passing, but also required more precise locations with perimeter defenders.
Iowa (7-6, 0-2 Big Ten) shared the ball well, with 25 team assists on 35 made shots, and the scoring backed that up. Luka Garza led with 17 points, Isaiah Moss added 16, Jack Nunge had nine points, four rebounds and four assists, while Cordell Pemsl and Maishe Dailey both had eight points. Nicholas Baer also added five points and 10 rebounds.
Sharing the ball like that won’t get easier, especially in Big Ten play, but even if Tuesday night was a flash in the pan in terms of what they faced inside, it also gave them work at their decision-making. The Hawkeyes have seen and will see the double teams they didn’t against the Thunderbirds, so the different kinds of playmaking could serve them well.
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“The Iowa State game was the first time we saw that hard of a double team where they were sending two, sometimes three guys at me,” Cook said. “So now we’ve got to figure out where we can catch the ball and be more effective, the different kind of plays we can make to still be on the scoreboard and stuff. Moving forward, we have to do more of that.”
WAGNER, ELLINGSON BOTH SUFFER ANKLE INJURY
Iowa saw a pair of identical ankle injuries on Tuesday night, one appearing more severe than the other.
Forward Ahmad Wagner and guard Brady Ellingson both came down on an opposing player’s foot in the first half, suffering right ankle injuries. Wagner left for the locker room, did not return, and was seen after the game in a walking boot. Ellingson also went to the locker room and returned to the bench, but did not play again.
McCaffery said after the game Wagner’s injury was “not a break, he just sprained it.” He wasn’t specific about Ellingson’s, and hoped both would be available again soon.
“Both were identical injuries,” McCaffery said. “I think Ahmad’s is a little worse. Hopefully they’ll both be a quick turnaround and not a two-week thing.”
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