The freshman talks about the success he and his team had against Purdue Mark Emmert / The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. — How much fortitude did the Iowa basketball team discover in one fortnight?
Ask Purdue. Ask its 7-foot-2 center Isaac Haas.
A Hawkeye team that was blitzed two weeks ago in its Big Ten Conference opener came back Thursday to go chin to chin and elbow to elbow with those same Boilermakers, pulling off an 83-78 upset and its biggest win of the season before an announced crowd of 10,752 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I’m just so excited that we have a group of young guys that are fearless like that and so we didn’t back down,” Iowa freshman forward Tyler Cook said.
“We didn’t let them overpower us like they did the last game.”
The last game was an 89-67 Purdue cakewalk Dec. 28.
The rematch was markedly different, and it was obvious early. In the first half, Hawkeyes forward Cordell Pemsl clutched at a basketball while Haas did the same, both of them falling to the court while the crowd roared as if at a wrestling match.
In the second half, it was little-used Iowa freshman Ryan Kriener’s turn to tangle with Haas, a sequence that again wound up with both of them on the floor, neither giving ground.
They may have been the two most significant held-balls in Iowa history, because of the message being sent.
“That’s the kind of mentality that both of those guys have and that we’ll need to continue to bring in the Big Ten, is just that never -back-down mentality and that fighting mentality that we had,” an approving Iowa sophomore Nicholas Baer said.
In a brutally intense game that featured 12 ties and 20 lead changes, the Hawkeyes kept their poise even while repeatedly being bruised. Five Iowa players left the game with injuries, only to return for more. The wounded included Baer with a shot to the midsection, Pemsl with a balky back, Isaiah Moss with a blow to the back of his head, Dom Uhl’s aching thumb after a dunk attempt and Jordan Bohannon’s gimpy foot in the waning moments.
Through it all, Iowa outscored No. 19 Purdue (14-4, 3-2 Big Ten) 40-20 in the paint and outrebounded the visitors 35-28.
Iowa (11-7, 3-2) scored the final five points of the game on free throws, got key stops and rebounds on the other end, and used a near-flawless second half to claim victory.
“They certainly played like a veteran group in the second half,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of his team. “(Purdue) kept making shots and they kept making baskets, and we got the stops at the very end.
“But that's what good teams do. They make you play this way to win. And that's what makes it a good feeling for me because I just want those guys to experience what that's like. That's what you work for, that's what you prepare for to be in a game like that and band together and do what's necessary to win.”
The Iowa sophomore lays out the keys to Thursday's hard-fought victory Mark Emmert / The Register
Iowa trailed 47-38 at halftime, but shot 67 percent (16 of 24) after intermission. The Hawkeyes held the Boilermakers to 9-of-28 (32 percent) from the field in the second half.
Senior Peter Jok, as usual, led the Hawkeyes with 29 points. He also had a career-high eight assists in a sterling performance even by his standards.
“He’s one of those guys, if you let him hit a couple, now he’s going to make tough ones and you can’t let him get his head up,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said of Jok. “We let him dribble into a couple. I know they were from 25 feet, but those are comfortable to him. You’ve got to try your best to take up space and not let him get that comfortable.”
Jok made 4 of 7 3-pointers. Bohannon had 12 points and a season-high nine assists. Cook scored 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Kriener, playing for the first time in four games, was thrust into action in the second half and coolly sank 3-of-4 shots while also bodying up against Haas.
Baer needed only 19 minutes to grab 10 rebounds, including the final one of the game when Purdue’s Dakota Mathias missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the score with 4 seconds left. Baer’s subsequent two free throws sealed the win.
“It just kind of came down to what happened when that ball came off the rim on their end and how we rebounded down the stretch,” Baer said.
“We did play with a certain amount of toughness. I think this proves how well we can play and how well we have to play.”
Iowa next plays at Northwestern on Sunday.