Iowa basketball takeaways: Tyler Cook and Luka Garza dominate, McCaffery knows his role

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Tyler Cook and Luka Garza were a dominant big man duo for Iowa in a 96-64 men’s basketball exhibition throttling of Belmont Abbey on Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Cook scored 24 points, on dunks and free throws, to lead the way. Garza added 18 points and 12 rebounds. The clearest lesson from the Hawkeyes’ second exhibition win was that they are set on a starting frontcourt with those two players.

What else was learned?

Iowa forward Tyler Cook dunks on Belmont Abbey in Thursday's Hawkeye exhibition victory. It was a common sight, as the Crusaders had no answer for Cook.

Big matchup problem

Cook, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, was more than the Crusaders could handle. He got to the free-throw line 16 times as all Belmont Abbey could do was foul him.

Garza, a 6-11 freshman, opened the scoring with a 3-pointer and showed that he can be effective on the perimeter while Cook handles low-post duties.

“We kind of share the post a little bit,” Garza said. “And when he’s getting it going like he was early in the game, I kind of stay on the wing and duck in on the weak side because obviously they couldn’t do anything to him.”

Garza had five offensive rebounds as Iowa earned 23 second-chance points.

Cook, meanwhile, showed that he’s become a little more patient at reading defenses before deciding whether to shoot or pass out of the post.

“He played with great pace,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Cook. “Double-team comes, if they’re sitting in his lap, he’s finding people out of the post. If he’s got space, he goes.”

Cook didn’t always have space. Sometimes he just created his own. He’s a load to handle. As is Garza.

Their production — 42 points and 19 rebounds — came in a combined 43 minutes of playing time.

Cooking at the line

Cook was a 60-percent free throw shooter last season and has made it a priority to improve in that aspect.

For a guy who’s going to spend as much time at the line as he does, it could make a big difference between winning and losing in close games.

Cook made 10 of his 16 free throws Thursday, missing the final two to bring that percentage down to 62.5 for the game.

He was not happy.

“I had a feel early in the game that I was going to get there a lot, so I just kept attacking. I don’t want to miss six again,” Cook said of his free throws.

“Hopefully I can be 16-of-16 the next time. I want to make every one of them. I don’t want to say that I want to go for 70 or 80 percent because I don’t want to let myself miss any. I think it will be a lot better than last year.”

Big lineup blues

McCaffery unveiled an interesting lineup in the first half when he inserted 6-7 Nicholas Baer at the shooting guard and 6-11 Jack Nunge as the small forward. That gave Iowa an imposing group that was effective on the offensive end.

On defense?

“They had five guards on the floor so we really had to focus on sitting down and keeping guys in front of us,” Cook said.

“We did a better job in the second half of keeping guys in front of us, making sure we were in the passing lanes so they couldn’t just drive by us. We’ve got to get rid of that complacency and put two halves together.”

Belmont Abbey took a lead late in the first half after repeatedly driving through Iowa’s tall but rather immobile lineup. That will be the challenge for that unit whenever McCaffery decides to roll it out.

“I like Nunge at the 3. The problem is, I like Nick at the 3, I like Ahmad (Wagner) there. We’re going to have to utilize all of that,” McCaffery said of his lineup experimentation.

“Defensively, we weren’t connected at all. They spread us out and they made some tough shots.”

Connor McCaffery's big decision

Fran McCaffery’s son, Connor, has decided to play basketball this season rather than redshirt. That announcement was no surprise, and it came this week after backup point guard Christian Williams decided last Thursday that he will transfer from the Hawkeye program.

Connor McCaffery, a freshman out of Iowa City West and the 2017-18 All-Iowa Basketball Player of the Year, had been intending to play baseball in the spring. But he is the only other point guard on the Iowa roster now besides starter Jordan Bohannon.

Fran McCaffery said he left the decision up to his son.

“He recognized that Christian leaving created another opportunity for another ball-handler guard to contribute to this team. He wants to contribute to this team. He loves this team,” Fran said.

Connor said the decision was relatively simple. His dad’s team suddenly needs him, and he’s a four-star recruit who can help.

“Jordan and I have both been playing the guard spots. That’s pretty much been me as the other guy,” Connor McCaffery said.

“It just made more sense with how things were going here and how things were going with baseball and the needs of both teams.”

McCaffery played 17 minutes Thursday, scoring two points, with four assists, three steals and no turnovers. He can clearly fill a role, and he knows what it is.

“My job first is to distribute and get other guys involved and then late clock or if I see a lane open for myself, then I’ll go,” McCaffery said. “I want to push the ball. I want to get out in transition, get everybody running and just get guys involved. We have a lot of shot-makers, a lot of scorers.”

No Moss for how long?

Starting shooting guard Isaiah Moss sat out the game after injuring his right foot and ankle in last Friday’s exhibition win over William Jewell College. Brady Ellingson replaced him in the starting lineup and scored nine points.

“He’s just not ready yet. I don’t think it will be much longer, a couple of days,” Fran McCaffery said of Moss.

Iowa opens the regular season by hosting Chicago State next Friday. That’s a team the Hawkeyes should beat with or without Moss, so it will be interesting to see if he plays or opts for more recuperation time.