Iowa came into Carver-Hawkeye Arena after suffering back-to-back losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State. The Spartan loss damaged the psyche of Hawkeye fans everywhere. It was easy to see the 2017 Hawkeyes in Iowa’s game against the Spartans on Monday. Long scoring droughts, not stopping anyone, and just not enough energy.
The Hawkeyes came out with a mission on Thursday night. It was time to truly show that they evolved from last season’s 14-19 atrocity. Last year, when Iowa had their backs against the wall, they folded. The Hawks couldn’t push the envelope, control the tempo, and didn’t know how to handle adversity. This season, the Hawkeyes proved their grit, toughness, and resilience in a 98-84 win over in-state rival Iowa State (7-2).
“Exactly,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said on if this was the response he was looking for. “We wanted to establish our running game. We wanted to establish our ability to move the ball and get a lot of people involved, and then we had to rebound. We had a few too many turnovers, but that’s a credit to them.”
The Hawkeyes received a big boost from a guy that has flown under the radar this season in Isaiah Moss. Moss hasn’t played many second-half minutes and is one of the streakiest shooters on the team, but he had it cooking on Thursday. The redshirt junior scored 18 points in the first half and helped spread out the Cyclone defense.
“It was awesome,” Iowa forward Tyler Cook said of Moss’ performance. “The best thing about Zay is that when they adjusted and played him differently that he had no problem with setting other guys up. Keeping the ball moving and getting other guys involved. So that was the best part about it. We know [Isaiah] can score the ball. But the fact he was selfless and setting other guys up when they played him differently was huge for us.”
“I thought Moss was really the difference in the first half,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said.
Cook spent all the off-season training with NBA teams, future NBA players and came back to Iowa with a new gameplan and attitude. That was on full display on Thursday night. Cook was unstoppable. He finished with 26 points on 12-of-16 from the field and 11 rebounds (seven offensive).
Cook was engaged as can be on the defensive end. Calling out rotations, getting the crowd involved and just looked on another level compared to everyone else on the court. He was a major reason why Iowa held Iowa State without a field goal for more than seven minutes in the first half. The junior took to heart the feedback he received over the summer and it’s clear that he’s taken that next step to developing his game.
“His energy level was tremendous,” McCaffery said. “Seven offensive rebounds, 26 and 11, and he’s a tough cover. He’s so quick, strong, and powerful. Steve rotated guys on him, put some bigs, some smalls, tried doubling. He got deep position, too; he was able to go quick, and that’s what you’ve got to do.”
Two major surprises happened on Thursday night. The biggest one was that junior forward Cordell Pemsl played. Just nine days ago, McCaffery announced that Pemsl would undergo season-ending surgery and that they would apply for a medical hardship waiver to grant Pemsl a fifth-year of eligibility.
Pemsl took the court and put together an outstanding performance considering he hasn’t practiced for the last two-three weeks. He finished with eight points, six rebounds, and a block. Pemsl also played with the most defensive intensity that he’s shown in his time at Iowa.
“It meant a lot [to get Cordell back],” freshman wing Joe Wieskamp said. “He’s been great in the locker room. On the sidelines, he’s been encouraging and he’s just a great teammate. To see him go out there and have so much success is really great for you.”
“He was phenomenal,” McCaffery said. “He started to feel a little better, wanted to give it a shot, so he was cleared to play, to give him a shot. I’m surprised at what his conditioning was, quite frankly. He was tremendous. He ran, he didn’t seem to tire, gave us really good minutes as an experienced guy is what you would expect. We’ll take it day-to-day from here.”
The second surprise was that Wieskamp played. It was reported earlier in the day that Wieskamp wouldn’t play due to an ankle injury that he suffered against Michigan State. Well, Wieskamp took the court for warm-ups and told McCaffery about 30 minutes before the game that he wanted to play. Wieskamp used his length to disrupt Cyclone shooters and he finished with seven points, two assists, and one rebound.
The Hawkeyes also got a boost from redshirt senior Nick Baer. Baer has been unconscious the last few games and he hasn’t been afraid to let his shot fly. He finished with 14 points (4-of-5 from three), seven rebounds, three assists, and a steal.
Iowa had their backs against the wall heading into the in-state rivalry. They could have come out flat, started on a downward spiral, and just accepted their fate. Instead, Wieskamp and Pemsl play, Moss has a season-high 20 points and a career-high seven rebounds, Cook took over, and the Hawkeyes decided to change their fortune.
The Cyclones entered Thursday’s game holding a +7.8 rebound margin over their opponents. Well, Cook and the Hawkeyes used a 44-24 rebounding advantage to dominant the Cyclones on the interior and Prohm’s squad had no answer for it. Iowa had 17 rebounds just on the offensive glass. The Hawkeyes entered Thursday’s game outrebounding opponents by an average of 2.3 rebounds.
The Hawkeyes have the talent to make an NCAA tournament this season. Thursday’s win provided hope for a fan base that is craving to have success once more. This team seems to be as fiery, tough, and strong-minded as we’ve seen in the McCaffery era. Will they capitalize? That will be answered in the coming months, but for now, enjoy a team that loves to play together and has evolved from last season’s miscues.
“You grow up in the rivalry being from Iowa. It’s a game I always look forward to,” Baer said. “I am really proud of my guys, we really played together and left it all out on the floor.”
“When you look up in the stands, you see how seriously people take it,” Cook said. “I’m embracing it. I’m trying to make myself an Iowan for these kind of games.”
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