Iowa Hawkeyes

Back to the bench for Nicholas Baer, as he looks to jumpstart his game for Iowa basketball

Iowa Hawkeyes forward Nicholas Baer (51) knocks the ball away from Michigan State Spartans guard Lourawls Nairn Jr. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes forward Nicholas Baer (51) knocks the ball away from Michigan State Spartans guard Lourawls Nairn Jr. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Players always want to get back to the basics when things aren’t going so well. For Nicholas Baer, it’s about getting back to the bench.

That’s where the junior forward has excelled in his Iowa basketball career. Baer was the Big Ten Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2017.

After 16 straight starts, he has been a reserve in the Hawkeyes’ last two games. That’ll be the case again Saturday afternoon against Indiana at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (1:05 p.m., ESPN).

“You put a guy into the starting lineup, and he feels like he needs to make 3s, he’s got to get stops, he’s got to get rebounds, he’s got to block shots,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “He’s been a little bit of all of that. I think it will be better for him, better for us to bring him off the bench.”

This has not been the season most envisioned for the Hawkeyes or for Baer. The 6-foot-7 former walk-on from Bettendorf has seen all of his numbers decline from a season ago.

He goes into Saturday averaging 5.6 points and 5.0 rebounds, shooting 40 percent from the field and 29.9 percent from 3-point range. He averaged 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds last season.

Blame a broken pinky on his left, non-shooting hand for a lot of the struggles. That happened in practice just before the start of the season and forced him to miss the first six games.

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“He was playing his best basketball of his career this summer and through the foreign trip (to Germany),” McCaffery said. “Broke his finger, we started a little bit sideways as a result of that, and I think he put a lot of pressure on himself when he came back, to maybe do more than he should be doing. That’s why I moved him back to where he’s coming off the bench. Just do what you do, do what you do well, impact our team the way you are capable. You were the best at it in the league last year, so just try to be the best at it this year.”

“Honestly, it hasn’t been the most ideal season for me individually,” Baer said. “I’m not quite shooting the ball as well as I’d like to. At the same time, I’m trying to make the same effort plays and smart plays that I’ve been accustomed to making and that I can make an impact on the game. Still trying to figure things out, but, I think we all are.”

Baer agreed with his coach that he probably pressed too much upon his return from his broken pinky. He has tried to play a game of catch-up, and it hasn’t been successful.

“It’s difficult coming back in a hole like that. Out six games and everything,” he said. “Part of it with it being the pinky, too, it was really hard to shoot when I was recovering. It has been difficult, but at the same time, that was November and December. Here we are in February. There’s still a lot of room to improve. I think our best basketball as a team is still ahead of us, and I think my best basketball is still ahead of me.”

Iowa (12-16, 3-12) has lost four in a row, including a 74-59 defeat Wednesday night at Michigan. Indiana (15-12, 8-7) has won three straight.

The Hoosiers won the first encounter between these teams back on Dec. 4, 77-64, at Bloomington. Junior forward Juwan Morgan had a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds in that game and leads Indiana in those categories this season (16.8 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game).

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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