IOWA CITY — The pregame numbers didn’t deceive.
Iowa showed up at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Tuesday night leading Division-I men’s basketball in free throws and free throw attempts per game, with 22.5 and 29.6, respectively.
Western Carolina began the night leading the nation in turnovers with 19.2 per contest.
The Catamounts arrived with five losses by at least 23 points and three by at least 31.
The Hawkeyes brought a No. 21 national ranking against a Southern Conference club with a 3-9 record.
So what happened? Nothing that went against form. Iowa shot 37 foul shots and made 27. Western Carolina made 26 turnovers. The Hawkeyes defeated the Catamounts 78-60 after leading by as much as 25 points.
Iowa broke to a 7-0 lead, fell behind 10-9, then did what it was supposed to do. The fact WCU had just two more field goal attempts (17) than turnovers (15) explains it being down 48-29 at the break despite it shooting 64.7 percent from the field in the half
When has a team shot that well and trailed by 19 points at halftime? It may have been the first time, Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said, in “the history of basketball.”
Tyler Cook led Iowa’s scoring with 18 points. That was according to form, too, since the junior forward leads his team in scoring this season and has averaged 19 points over the last five games.
The biggest crowd roar of the second half came when UI student Michael Burke of Ames banked in a half-court shot on his first try during a timeout to win a $50 gift card from Scheel’s.
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The Hawkeyes’ biggest news of the day was injury related. Junior forward Cordell Pemsl had surgery Tuesday, and his season is over. Since he played in just two games, he’ll apply for a medical redshirt.
“Cordell’s procedure removed hardware near his knee from a previous surgery when he was in high school,” said McCaffery.
Pemsl played in the season-opener against Missouri-Kansas City, then sat out until he played 18 minutes against Iowa State on Dec. 6.
“We determined that the best course of action is to correct the problem at this time,” Pemsl said via an Iowa sports information department news release.
Tuesday night, Pemsl tweeted “Successful surgery, of course! Thank you to everyone who kept me in their prayers and have been behind me every step of the way. I won’t let y’all down.. #InDueTime”
Pemsl has played in 68 career games, averaging 7.2 points and 4.7 rebounds.
— Breezy (@cpemsl35) December 19, 2018
With 11:26 left, Iowa center Ryan Kriener left the court limping and went to the training room with a turned ankle. He didn’t return to the game, but did show up to answer reporters’ questions after the game.
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“I’ll be fine,” Kriener said. “It wasn’t a bad sprain or anything. Better safe than sorry.”
“I don’t think it’s real bad,” McCaffery said. “I would expect him to play Saturday (against Savannah State).”
Kriener becomes more of a focal point with the knowledge Pemsl will be unavailable the rest of the season.
“Kriener’s playing great,” McCaffery said. “I thought he was terrific Saturday (against Northern Iowa), I thought he was terrific tonight.”
Iowa point guard Connor McCaffery also went to the trainer’s room, after the game. He got poked in the head late in the game.
“He was dizzy,” Fran McCaffery said. “We don’t know yet if he had a concussion. I don’t think so.”
On top of that, junior walk-on forward Riley Till wasn’t in uniform for the game. He had his left foot in a walking boot because of a sprained ankle. Till, who like Pemsl is from Dubuque Wahlert, played six minutes for the Hawkeyes in New York when they upset Oregon on Nov. 15 and played 16 minutes against Alabama State on Nov. 21. Fran McCaffery said he’s hopeful Till can play Saturday, too.
Fran McCaffery got good news after the game. His son, 2019 Iowa recruit Patrick McCaffery, had a school-record 42 points for Iowa City West in its 68-67 win over Cedar Rapids Washington.