Iowa takes 'step backward' in loss to Michigan

Hawkeyes left open shooters, saw stagnant offense against Wolverines

IOWA CITY — Give the Iowa men’s basketball team credit for at least one thing Tuesday night: to a man, the Hawkeyes who met with media after losing to Michigan, 75-68, acknowledged the snapping of a five-game win streak came with a step backward in the areas that seemed to have been improved.

It’s hard not to acknowledge as much given what happened at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Defensive mistakes led to wide open shooters repeatedly, especially in the first half, and the give-it-to-Tyler-Cook-and-watch offense didn’t exactly foster versatility on that end.

Iowa fell to 9-7 overall and 0-3 in Big Ten play, and it came with some familiar refrains about not being connected, not being locked in and not having the right energy or effort.

And it came without an answer to the obvious question: how does that happen in January of the second season in which these guys have played with one another?

“I wish I had an answer for you,” Cook said. “I don’t think our energy and effort was there early, and I think that affects multiple parts of the game. As a unit, our mindset wasn’t there, to come out and take the game.

“I’m not inside every guy’s head, but as a leader, we’ve got to do better. If we see guys that aren’t there energy-wise, we’ve got to be able to pick guys up. It’s not just a one-man job. Nobody is safe from criticism from that standpoint.”

Strong words from the strongest player on the floor in a game in which the score did not reflect the balance of the contest.

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Michigan got at least 13 points from four different players, including 15 apiece from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zavier Simpson, as well as 14 points and seven rebounds from Charles Matthews and 13 points from Isaiah Livers. That group combined to shoot 9 of 19 from 3-point range — Livers going 3 of 3 — and nearly all of those were open looks.

Forward Cordell Pemsl, who had six points and four rebounds, pointed to what he called “false help, where we’re helping when it’s not necessary,” adding that situation awareness was not at an optimal level against the Wolverines. Pemsl said simple drive-and-kicks were hurting the Hawkeyes — he called himself out, too, for biting on multiple occasions — which was a signal the Iowa players were falling back on everything but the scouting report.

As bad as that was, it was only exacerbated by an offense that was limited too often to tossing it to Cook and watching. Cook answered the bell, to be certain, with 28 points on 10 of 15 shooting (8 of 11 from the free throw line) and adding eight rebounds. But after him, only Jordan Bohannon was in double figures with 12 points on 4 of 7 shooting from 3-point range.

Head coach Fran McCaffery pointed that out in the answer to the first question he took after the game, saying it appeared like defense was the main culprit, but that the offense’s stagnation had as much to do with it. McCaffery said the offense was “sputtering,” and that “we were scrambling a lot as a result of our poor offense.”

“We weren’t moving the way we were in the wins,” Pemsl said. “Tonight I think Tyler started going early, so we’d give the ball to him and just stand and watch and expect him to do what he had to do. When we’ve got high-lows working and get him the ball, that’s a different story, but we can’t just expect him to get the ball or Jordan to get the ball and score every time.

“We’ve got to be able to move the ball well and get guys open with flare screens, ball screens, whatever it is. Everyone has to keep moving and can’t be standing and watching.”

With just one day in which to prepare for a visiting Ohio State, there’s little time to correct the issues from the latest similar-looking loss.

Tuesday night was a regression. The disappointment and frustration of that was etched on every Hawkeye’s face during and after the game. For reasons that have yet to produce answers, the level of focus against high-quality opponents has yet to show itself for this iteration of the Iowa men’s basketball team.

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After more than 18 months of practicing and playing together, there still clearly are growing pains with this group fully coming together on a consistent basis, and Tuesday night’s loss was another example.

“With every step backward, there’s a step forward, so we’re going to try to make that step forward against Ohio State,” Bohannon said. “I’d like to think we’re all locked in, but obviously it’s very inconsistent. Obviously you can see that from the outside. It’s hard at this level to get everyone locked in on the same page. That’s what makes those Kentuckys or Dukes (so good), because they’re locked in every game, every single possession. It’s something we really need to look into.

“The beauty of it is there’s a game in the next couple days, so we’ll try to learn from this, flush it away and get ready for Ohio State.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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