IOWA CITY — One game, Cordell Pemsl’s self-caused absence hung over the Iowa men’s basketball team like a proverbial dark cloud.
The next game, Pemsl’s presence helped light up the Hawkeyes.
To call this a story of redemption might be over the top, but it does show the mercurial nature of college sports and life itself. Pemsl was suspended for Iowa’s game at Indiana last Wednesday because he was arrested two days earlier for driving with a revoked license.
The Hawkeyes had first-half foul trouble and could have used Pemsl in their 89-77 loss in Bloomington, especially when CJ Fredrick suffered a sprained ankle in the first half.
Sunday at Minnesota, Pemsl had one of his best games of the season. He defended, he was aggressive, he made good decisions. He hit all three of his shots. He didn’t let his team falter when Luka Garza had to sit with foul trouble. Without Pemsl, Iowa wouldn’t have gotten the 58-55 win it earned.
It was a sweet end to a sour week for the fourth-year junior forward.
“With CJ out I knew that there was an opportunity for more minutes and a greater opportunity,” Pemsl said Wednesday, “and I just wanted to take advantage of it.”
Pemsl had the revoked license because of an OWI charge last September, and served a team suspension at the start of this season. This latest incident was comparative small potatoes. It was late, he was hungry, he headed somewhere to get some food.
“I wasn’t speeding,” he said. “I wasn’t drinking, swerving. They got me for a cracked taillight.
“I made a mistake. I drove when I shouldn’t have. ... Obviously, it was a dumb decision. I shouldn’t have made it.
“I felt like I let a lot of people down.”
This all came in the middle of a season that has been trying for the player. Pemsl has been in Fran McCaffery’s rotation, but hasn’t really been the same player who started 14 games and averaged 8.9 points as a freshman three years ago. There was a knee surgery and a redshirt season last year. There was a smaller role this season than when he peeled off five straight double-digit scoring games as a frosh.
“It’s all been in my head,” Pemsl said. “I’ve been down on myself, lacking confidence. I felt more like the aggressor in that Minnesota game, making more powerful and precise moves, knowing what to do with the ball when I catch it.
“There have been moments when I don’t trust myself or my game. And I’ve been told that I make that evident sometimes. I wish I didn’t. From here on out I’m just looking to play the way I know I’m able to play.”
Fredrick’s status for Iowa’s Thursday night home game against Ohio State was unknown before Wednesday’s practice, but Fran McCaffery will need Pemsl no matter what.
“I think that was the unfortunate thing about the Indiana game because he was working toward that,” McCaffery said. “He felt really good. He had some great practices and felt like he was going to have a good game down there and then didn’t play.
“I think that made him even hungrier for the next one. And he knew we needed him and he came up big in a huge way, and I think his teammates appreciated that.”
“I’m around guys who I would call much more than teammates,” Pemsl said. “I’m in a place where I’m comfortable and I feel appreciated.”
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