Iowa forward Cordell Pemsl talks about the energy that was felt by players in an entertaining 96-93 loss to No. 4 Michigan State. Chad Leistikow/The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. — It was probably the question on the mind of every Iowa basketball fan after Tuesday’s near-miss against No. 4 Michigan State.
Where has this Hawkeye team been all year?
Sophomore forward Cordell Pemsl was ready for it after Iowa fell 96-93 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“That’s a great question. Obviously, we all wish that we could have been playing like this from the get-go. We’d have a way different season,” Pemsl said after contributing 11 points and a team-high seven rebounds off the bench. “But at least we were able to show not only everyone else but ourselves that it is there, that we are capable of doing stuff like that.”
Tuesday’s performance, arguably the best of the season for the Hawkeyes, couldn’t prevent them from falling to 12-14 overall and 3-10 in the Big Ten Conference. It’s a far cry from where they expected to be. But it showed that there is some pride still lurking within this team.
“Big picture, we played a hell of a game,” Pemsl said. “It was a huge step for us.”
The key for Iowa will be proving that it’s not fleeting. The next two game are at No. 16 Ohio State on Saturday and No. 20 Michigan next Wednesday.
Iowa forward Tyler Cook has been aggressive about sprinting down court to post up, and he explains why. Mark Emmert/Hawk Central
Cook hustles for 'early offense'
The game plan wasn’t specifically to get Michigan State’s post players in foul trouble, Iowa forward Tyler Cook said. But that was a welcome byproduct of his incessant hustle.
Cook had 26 points in 37 minutes, leading all players in both categories. He was so active after Michigan State made baskets that he forced fouls on defenders trying to catch up to him and keep him from establishing post position at the other end of the court.
Michigan State starting forwards Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson Jr. played only 31 minutes between them as they kept fouling their Iowa counterparts. They scored 28 points in those minutes, so it’s obvious how one-sided the game could have been if they had been allowed extended playing time.
“We weren’t necessarily coming into the game saying, ‘get them in foul trouble.’ But once we saw how we could do that, running the floor, posting up early and really pounding it inside, we kept doing that,” Cook said. “We just wanted to keep attacking.”
The Hawkeyes ended up with a 42-38 advantage in the paint.
“He's quick, he's powerful. He was running,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Cook. “I thought his activity level was really good. He's a handful in those situations.”
Cook has been noticeably more intent on beating defenders downcourt in recent games. He said a message he’s long heard from McCaffery is starting to sink in in his sophomore year.
“That’s something that coach has been preaching since the day I met him is early offense,” Cook said. “He’s always been telling me, in transition is the time to post because a lot of times guys are out of position. In transition, they can’t double.
“That just gives us a whole lot of open looks. Sometimes a runout, early post, where you can just go get it and finish is the best option.”
Cook is averaging 17.8 points on 55 percent shooting in Big Ten play.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery discusses a 96-93 loss to Michigan State. Chad Leistikow/The Register
Dailey has green light
Iowa guard Maishe Dailey’s first 3-pointer Tuesday drew an odd response. McCaffery promptly benched him in the first half. That was because Dailey didn’t seem to know which play the Hawkeyes were running and only launched his jumper because the shot clock was about to expire.
It turned out to be the beginning of a strong outing for the sophomore. Dailey said Monday he’s been instructed to shoot more often since he’s connecting on 40.4 percent of his 3s.
He heeded the advice, making 3-of-5 from the arc against Michigan State to finish with 13 points in 17 minutes. He also made a shot from just inside the arc.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said at halftime and again after the game that Dailey’s shooting accuracy surprised him. It was unclear what games Izzo had been watching. Dailey’s problems haven’t been making a low percentage of his shots, but rather not attempting enough of them.
“I thought he handled the ball. He was able to give (point guard) Jordan (Bohannon) some rest there a little bit. I thought his activity level in defense on the glass was really good,” McCaffery said of Dailey. “I think he's gaining confidence.”
Moss feeds off trust
Starting shooting guard Isaiah Moss benefited from some confidence McCaffery placed in him. The sophomore opened the second half with an aggressive drive for a layup and a foul, making the free throw to cut Michigan State’s lead to 50-45.
Twenty seconds later, Moss was called for his third foul. Dailey peeled off his warmups in anticipation of being sent in to replace Moss.
McCaffery made no such signal.
Moss responded with a terrific stretch of play that included five points, three rebounds and three assists over the next 7 minutes while Iowa took a 63-62 lead.
“I felt like he was ready,” McCaffery said of leaving Moss in the game (he took forward Nicholas Baer out after he was called for his third foul 2 minutes later). “Made a nice play to start the half. I said, I'm just going to leave him. You just go.”
Moss said he got the message.
“Him leaving me out there, it just told me he still believed in me and he wanted me to be aggressive,” Moss said. “So that’s what I tried to do.”
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo speaks after his team outlasted the Hawkeyes, 96-93, in Iowa City. Chad Leistikow/The Register
Many coaches don’t like to make excuses for subpar performances by their teams.
Izzo had no such hesitation after his Spartans allowed Iowa to shoot 52.2 percent from the field, nearly 18 percentage points above their season average.
“Five games in 12 days are really taking a toll on us,” Izzo complained. “I thought we were walking on our knees. (Tuesday) we were beat, both mentally and physically. I’m going to take a win in a tough place to play.”
Izzo planned to give his team Wednesday off ahead of a showdown with No. 3 Purdue on Saturday.
He wants no excuses for what figures to be the marquee matchup of the Big Ten season.