IOWA CITY – Ohio State guard Kam Williams left a message for the Iowa men’s basketball team midway through the first half Thursday night.
“This is easy,” Williams exclaimed in the direction of Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery and the rest of the team on the bench.
That phrase cut through the silence that usually follows an opponent’s 3-pointer, especially when that 3-pointer is part of a 16-1 run that effectively amounted to the margin of victory, a 92-81 loss for Iowa that leaves the team 0-4 in Big Ten play.
Most everyone on that end of the floor heard it. Nicholas Baer said he heard it. Tyler Cook heard it from the bench, having had to sit with two fouls.
Thing was, during that run, Williams was right. The Buckeyes were getting open shots, both from outside and in the lane. The defense in that part of the game and Williams’ expression were a direct shot to Iowa’s pride.
“A lot of guys are going to make those open shots,” Cook said. “In the second half, we played better defensively, but then it’s too late.
“The way I was raised, the way I grew up; the people I grew up around, that doesn’t fly with us. That’s all I’ll say on that.”
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Cook’s indication that that moment galvanized the team was confirmed by Baer, who echoed everything Cook said about what Iowa’s defense was doing and what led to that stretch.
Baer also pointed out Iowa’s response to that run, which was tangible in the first half. The Hawkeyes pulled to within five, a brief but emphatic response out of halftime. The problem was more of the same from the first half followed that directly, and Iowa was back to where it started.
“I think that’s something, any time you hear that as a competitor, that’s going to fuel you,” Baer said, “especially when a player comes in and says that on your home floor. That’s not going to sit well. I thought we did a nice job at the start of the second half executing some of our stuff and playing at a high energy level. I think it definitely is (a pride thing.)”
Much of Thursday’s loss was eerily similar to Tuesday’s loss to Michigan.
Cook had 28 in that game, and finished Thursday’s game with 21 points and nine rebounds – though this time six of those were offensive rebounds, something McCaffery specifically challenged him to change. He was helped by 15 points and 10 assists from Jordan Bohannon – who had just one turnover – and 15 points and six rebounds from Luka Garza – the first time this season he’s had double-digit points against a Power 5 conference team.
But McCaffery made it plainly clear that, like Tuesday, poor offense for extended stretches made poor defense painfully obvious.
The lack of a change from Tuesday to Thursday left both Cook and Baer to say “I’m not sure I have an answer,” frustration at being unable to find one etched in their faces. Bohannon said there are a lot of things that could lead to an unfortunate status quo, but that, “at the end of the day, when adversity is thrown at you, you have to keep working and moving forward.”
Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop had 27 points and 13 rebounds, going 10 of 17 from the floor. Jae’Sean Tate had 18 points and seven rebounds. Williams finished with 13 points and three rebounds. The Buckeyes had 42 points in the paint, compared to the Hawkeyes’ 26.
So regardless of whether or not there were some bright spots in the second half, where defense was better and offense flowed with purpose, too much was too easy too much of the time.
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“We can change a lot of things, and again, it starts with maybe longer possessions on offense to maybe get a great shot,” McCaffery said. “We played a little bit of 3-2 (zone); that was horrendous. The 2-3 was better. We got a lot out of the press, and did some good stuff there.
“We’ve got to get our zone better than it is; more active, more aware. I thought our activity was good, but our attention to detail … it’s those kinds of things that are problematic, and maybe somewhat a result of inexperience. They’re trying to be aggressive and trying to be active, but it’s all about being active and aware at the same time, which we weren’t.”
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