The Iowa coach talks about his redshirt freshman guard, who had a career-high 21 points Monday.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa's men's basketball team played its own version of “21” on Monday night, and it added up to a much-needed 95-68 victory over Stetson.
Cordell Pemsl and Isaiah Moss each scored a career-high 21 points to lead the charge past an overwhelmed Hatters team before an announced crowd of 9,839 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes also rang up 21 assists — against only five turnovers — in an efficient performance that snapped a four-game losing streak.
“For the final buzzer to sound and for us to win the way we did, it’s definitely satisfying,” said Pemsl, a freshman forward who made 9-of-11 shots.
Iowa (4-5) hadn’t won in 15 days, since dominating Texas-Rio Grande Valley by a nearly identical 95-67 score.
Moss and Pemsl were inserted into the starting lineup two games ago. Their impact was vital Monday as the Hawkeyes quickly built a 12-2 lead and never let it drop below the double-digits again.
“I’ve just been working on my handles, my shooting. It has been confidence — and just being aggressive — 100 percent of the time,” Moss said after making 5-of-8 3-pointers and playing a team-high 32 minutes.
As for his surprise role as a starter, the redshirt freshman had this to say:
“I didn’t really think about it too much. I’m just blessed to be here, really. I worked really hard, so I’m glad they see it.”
Pemsl and Moss contributed more than just points. Pemsl had eight rebounds — five of them offensive. Moss added a career-high six boards and two steals. It was his physical defense that got Moss into the starting lineup in the first place. On Monday, he helped harass Stetson (4-6) into 4-of-19 shooting from the 3-point arc in the second half.
That works out to 21 percent.
More takeaways from Iowa’s win:
Wagner starts, but can’t finish
The Iowa forward talks about his new role and how he attacked it.
Ahmad Wagner got his first start of the season for Iowa, a result of his hustle in Saturday’s loss to Nebraska-Omaha. The sophomore forward was a force early, picking up five quick points and drawing the defensive assignment on Hatters star Derick Newton.
But 1:45 into the second half, he leaped high for an offensive rebound and landed awkwardly as his knee buckled. Wagner pounded the court and could be heard groaning in pain before limping to the training room.
He later returned to the bench and tried to talk coach Fran McCaffery into putting him back in the game. With the Hawkeyes up by a healthy margin, there was no need. Wagner said his knee tightened a little as he sat, and he believes he hyperextended it.
“I was real scared. I’ll admit, maybe I overreacted a little bit. I think I’m going to be OK,” Wagner said.
“Mom was first to text me. I picked up my phone, there were about eight messages from her. She’s happy I’m OK as well.”
Wagner found out he was starting at Monday’s pregame meal. McCaffery told him he needed to lock down on Newton, who entered the game averaging 18.6 points per game. Iowa held him to 12. Wagner finished with eight points and six rebounds in his 13 minutes.
“Maybe I’ve been a little bit tentative, but at some point you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to leave it out there,” said Wagner, who entered play averaging 3.8 points. “I have got to be aggressive. My team needs it.”
Protecting the basketball
The five turnovers were a season-low for Iowa — and the first statistic McCaffery mentioned in his postgame interview session. It continues a positive trend for the Hawkeyes, who only gave the ball away six times last Tuesday at Notre Dame, even with freshman Jordan Bohannon as the newly installed starting point guard.
“We're intelligent in our decision-making,” McCaffery said. “Get it swung from side-to-side. Go when you have space. Then take better shots, and ultimately that should increase your shooting percentage and cut down on turnovers.”
Pemsl said the Hawkeyes have benefited from playing at a less frenzied pace.
“Starting three freshmen isn’t a normal thing for Iowa basketball. I think we were a little hectic in the beginning and we were trying to do too much too fast,” he said. “But now we’re settling down a little bit. We’re not forcing things.”
Bench makes noise
It was obvious early that Iowa’s reserve players weren’t going to be reserved. They stood and cheered every positive play that the starters made, high-fiving and bellowing and making their support known. It was something the players had talked about in a team meeting after bench players scored only nine points in Saturday’s loss to UNO.
“I don't read a whole lot into team meetings. Everybody thinks they're the cure-all. Shouldn't be having team meetings, that's the way I look at it. No team meetings should be necessary. You should take care of your business when the game is played,” McCaffery said when asked about the increased exuberance
“The support our players on the floor receive from the bench, regardless who was in, that is what you want to see. As a coach, you also want to see that.”
Eventually, they all got into the game. Iowa used 12 players and 11 of them scored. The Hawkeyes got 28 points and 21 rebounds from the reserves.
“That was a big key for us. It’s hard to be excited when you’re not winning and you’re not playing well,” Wagner said. “But you get an early start like that and you get the bench involved and you get the crowd involved a little bit... It helps us flow better.”
Iowa next hosts Iowa State at 7 p.m. Thursday.